Friday, April 21, 2017

Bon Voyage / Buen Viaje

Tomorrow Herman and I fly to Paris, where we’ll spend a three days getting over our jet lag. Then we fly down to St Jean Pied de Port in southwestern France to start a five-hundred mile pilgrimage across Spain called “The Way of Saint James, Camino de Santiago.”

During the past ten years the Camino has witnessed an amazing revival to regain its place as the most popular Christian pilgrim route in the world, but this ancient path has been transforming lives for more than ten centuries. In recognition of the 1,800 building of great historic interest that lie along its path it was proclaimed the first European Cultural Itinerary in 1987 and inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

Neither Herman nor I are Christian, but we both believe that dedication to a spiritual path opens a space that allows for profound personal transformation.


I'm not taking my computer, so this will be my last posting for the next two months while we’re in Europe. Please wish us luck and dry weather.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Writing Tip: Too Much Dialog Can Spoil the Soup

I love dialog. It brings one close to the characters, lets the reader know how the character’s mind thinks, reacts, persuades and complains. Dialog is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox. I am of the opinion, that when it is overused, it tends to lose all its power. 

I’ve recently worked with two other authors, giving them suggestions on how to punch up their stories. In both cases, I felt they were doing too much with dialog. 

The first author started his murder mystery at the crime scene, but within a few pages, his team of detectives gathered in a room at the police station where they proceeded to do nothing but talk to each other for twelve pages. All the backstory was told through dialog during those pages. I can’t explain how excruciatingly BORING those pages were to read. My advice to this writer was, if he must use dialog to bring out these facts, then do it at the crime scene while the detectives are looking for clues. That way, they are doing something. There is action going on while they are talking. 

The second author did something similar, trying to tell the story mostly through dialog. I’m sorry, I told him, this simply doesn’t work. You’re not writing a play, you’re writing a novel. You need action to move the story forward. 

Dialog should not be used to tell the story. It should be used to punctuate the action in a story. Think of dialog as TNT. You want small controlled detonations in your prose in order to highlight certain ideas or actions or character traits. 

In short, try to tell the story in the narrator’s voice. Don’t make your characters tell the story. 

The other thing I’d like to point out about dialog is the way most people speak. If you pay attention while people talk, you’ll find that most people use very short bursts of dialog, fewer than ten words, before someone else responds and takes up the conversation. So having your characters constantly making long-winded soliloquies may not be the best option. Again, in my humble opinion, short burst are more entertaining and more in tune with human nature, thus it’s more believable.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Amos Lassen Reviews Buddha's Bad Boys by Alan Chin

Amos Lassen
I always look forward to a new book by Alan Chin and he never disappoints. In this new collection of six short stories, he looks at why we in the West gravitate to Eastern religions and it seems that in the East, the search for inner truth and love is easier to deal with. We learn that enlightenment comes to those who help others who are not as fortunate. We have here six stories of men trying to achieve enlightenment and in each case they find what they do not expect to find. Some of the stories are fiction while others are based on true happenings.
“Monk for a Month is the story of Reese, Darren and Archer, their seven-year-old son. They are on vacation as Buddhist monks in Thailand. Both Darren and Reece are acting out of their relationship; Darren seems to be involved with a young novice and Reece seems to be somewhat taken with a an who is wanted for murder. Chin sets the story up with quite a long exposition and his descriptions are a pleasure to read.
“Handcarved Elephants” is about a priest who has been defrocked because of his sexual advances with a teen. We meet him while he is on a yacht and it was here that he planned to take his own life by jumping overboard but instead he was washed up on a beach where he was found by Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery. He is given refuge there and to find out what happens you will have to read the story.
Philip Mann and his son Tru are the focus of “Empty Chairs”, the third story. Philip was a fireman who answered the calls to the World Trade Center on that fateful day, 9/11/01. He was so upset by what happened that he could not get his life back on tack and he left his wife and young son. He entered a Buddhist monastery. Now some ten years later, Tru, his son, who is still young tracks him down to the monastery where he tells his father that his mother took her own life not long before by jumping out of a window. Tru was sent to live with his grandparents (his mother’s parents) who sent him away to have his homosexuality deprogrammed. Philip decides that the time has come for him to take responsibility for his son (and for himself). He manages to regain guardianship of Tru and get rid of his grandparents who have been using him to gain his inheritance.
In “Almost Enough”, Palmer decides to leave everything behind and take a coworker who was diagnosed with a brain tumor to Thailand. The surprise here is that the coworker is Archer, the son in “Monk for a Month”. He is now an adult and he wishes to return to the monastery he had once visited with his two fathers. More than that, I cannot say.
“White Monkey” introduces us to Martin Braxton who is a guest at the monastery while he tries to work things out with his boyfriend who is becoming a monk. In return for housing and meals Martin is a helper when needed. We learn of their time together as well as of where they are now and whether the relationship can be saved is just not clear.
Finally, “Death of a Stranger” is about a man who takes care of elephants, a manhout. This is a story that brings some of the other stories together. Archer once again appears and he and the manhout along with a monk try to rescue Philip and Tru who have been imprisoned because of their politics and are in Myanmar.
I cannot say that this is a happy read but there are moments of happiness in the texts. Alan Chin has a wonderful name in the field of LGBT literature and reading this book shows us why that is. I don’t know much about the West but I did learn a lot here. Not only did I learned but I also had the chance to read beautiful writing.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What Is It Like Being A Writer?

While reading Memoirs by Tennessee Williams, I came across this passage:

What is it like being a writer? I would say it is like being free. 

I know that some writers aren’t free, they are professionally employed, which is quite a different thing.

Professionally, they are probably better writers in the conventional sense of “better.” They have an ear to the ground of bestseller demands: they please their publishers and presumably their public as well.

But they are not free and so they are not what I regard a true writer as being.

To be free is to have achieved your life.

It means any number of freedoms.

It means the freedom to stop when you please, to go where and when you please, it means to be a voyager here and there, one who flees many hotels, sad or happy, without obstruction and without much regret. 

It means the freedom of being. And someone has wisely observed, if you can’t be yourself, what’s the point of being anything at all?


I think there is much more to being a writer than what Mr. Williams pens here (at least a good writer), but if this is a valid definition of a writer, then I am, unquestionably, a writer. I fit this description perfectly. I am a voyager loose upon the world, who travels four to six months each year, loving each place I stay and having no regrets when I depart for the next destination. And I craft my stories in my voice the way I damn well want, giving little thought to publishers or audience. If nothing else, I have achieved that freedom in my life, and I wouldn’t give it up for a NY Times bestseller, a Pulitzer Prize, or an Oscar.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Compassion

Compassion is the heart and soul and awakening to enlightenment. Meditation and self-reflection can make us more receptive to compassion, but it cannot be forced or manufactured. When it gushes within, it feels as though it suddenly came out of nowhere by chance. And it can vanish just as quickly. It is experienced in those moments when the barrier of self is lifted and the individual existence surrenders to the well-being of existence as a whole.


Thus, we cannot attain awakening for ourselves. We experience it by participating in the awakening of all life.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Writing Tip: Don’t Muddy the Waters

I recently read and reviewed a 750 page, self-published novel that was written by a talented writer, and yet, I had a great deal of trouble muddling through the story. Not only was I not totally satisfied with the read, but the author contacted me after I posted my review to let me know I had missed several of the themes he had woven into the story. I freely admit that, although I caught some of the more obvious themes, several he mentioned did blow right over my head. He was very disappointed. It was a shame because much of his story was quite entertaining.

I’ve been thinking about his novel, my review of it, and the author’s response to my review for weeks now. The most prominent complaint that I expressed in the review was that the story was simply overwritten, and could benefit from cutting up to three hundred pages from the story, to tighten the storyline and focus more on the major themes.

After weeks of thought, I stand by my first analysis. I believe the main, and possibly the only, problem was the writer tried to encompass too much, too many ideas, into his story. He was so ambitious, trying to make his story grand, that many of the themes got lost in the shuffle.

I often do this myself when writing a first draft. I don’t realize what the major themes are until I’m deep into act three and all the subplots are coming together for the climax. But once the lightning bolt hits and I understand what my subconscious was striving for, then I’m ready for a major rewrite.

Once I know the premises, I write a theme statement, or two if there are multiple major themes, and I post them on my tack board over my desk. From that point on, the theme statements are my litmus test for cutting or keeping.

Particularly while writing the second draft, anything I find that doesn’t advance the major themes gets cut. Once while writing The Lonely War, I cut the first two hundred pages in half. The result was a cleaner read, and everything that was left did advance the themes.

My point is, be clear about what ideas the subtext of your story is creating, and keep the number of themes to a minimum. Two is good, one is better. In short, don’t muddy the waters by trying to do too much.

For my stories, I like to have two different subplots going on that are loosely linked, each with it’s own theme. At some point, usually deep into act three, I bring the two subplots together to pound home one overall premise. This approach is nothing new. In fact, writers have been using this technique since Rome was a village.

Again, the point is, know your theme, and cut anything that doesn’t progress that idea. Hopefully, you’ll end up with a tighter, cleaner manuscript.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Echo Magazine gives Island Song ★★★★★ Review

ISLAND SONG (2nd edition)
by Alan Chin

As Garrett Davidson arrives on the remote Hawaiian island, he is a man in desperate need of the restorative power that a simple life of seclusion and thought can provide. Far from the fast-track corporate life he lost in San Francisco, along with the love of his life to the devastating effects of AIDS, Garrett intends to honor Marc's memory by keeping his promise to document their lives together in a book. The house offered for rent on the bay seems perfect for that purpose, but it comes with an additional feature: Songoree, a local 20 year old who will cook his meals and clean for him during his stay. Garrett sees Song arrive each day, walking with a pretty young Hawaiian girl who then turns back home, but can't help but become fascinated by the young man. Despite some initial awkwardness, Garrett and Song become good friends, and the older man is also fascinated by Song's grandfather, who is the island's shaman or religious leader. The older man seems to sense Garrett's loneliness and sorrow, and provides advice that inspires him to take control of his life in a way he never imagined before.

Originally released in 2008 and billed as a "paranormal, erotic gay novel, Chin's first novel has always been far more than that, as a well-written, engaging and character-driven story about life, death, love, beliefs, attitudes, and an eye-opening look at how we choose to deal with each of those issues. This revised edition, with relatively few changes, flows even better than the original, and is definitely worth checking out, if you missed it the first time (or, even if you read the original, but want to visit it again.) It remains one of my favorite books by this talented author. Five stars out of five.


- Bob Lind, Echo Magazine