Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writing Tip: Write More To "Give," Than To "Get"

This is an overall practice and approach to writing (and life) that is perhaps the hardest, but most important thing I have learned in my twelve-plus years plugging away at the blank page.  It's ironic that it seems as though the only way to really achieve success is to put your energy into continuously bettering yourself, your craft and your work, and trusting that the rest will take care of itself. 

This is not from the perspective of one who has mastered it (far from it), and preaches "perfection" (which is impossible), but as one who has learned this lesson over and over, and continues to see it as a best practice.

A writer’s job is to work on their writing until it is viable in the marketplace.  When it is, there is no stopping it - doors open when they didn't before.  When it doesn't, there is little one can do to successfully "market" it.

Of course, it’s hard to know when we're ready, or how close we are.  There are no hard and fast rules on this - it is all subjective.  I think that writers tend to underestimate the amount of continuous forward motion that is required for any project (and ourselves) to be "viable," and focus instead on trying to market what we've done - to see what we can "get," if you will.  I believe our energies are always better expended on diligent creative progress - with professional feedback and guidance, if possible.

We all struggle with this (self included) - no matter how many years we've been doing it.  We're focused on getting the sale, getting the positive reaction, getting our agent to do something, etc.  Getting, getting, getting tends to be our obsession.  But more focus on getting almost never seems to have the desired effect.

However, continuous focus on giving - as in bettering and improving what you're offering to the world, staying upbeat and open, never giving up, seeking to grow and serve – is, I believe, a winning approach.  I'm not saying don't try to move your career forward.  I suggest taking every step that seems right to you at the time, especially if you can do it in a positive way - be it query letters, contests, pitch fests, etc.  My point is that the real business of building a writing career is not about that.  It's about the writing, the craft, the creative process, and your own growth; so that what you have to give is something others find huge value in.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joyfully Jay reviews The Plain of Bitter Honey

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today, I’d like to share the latest review of The Plain of Bitter Honey. My gratitude goes out to Kris, who wrote this review for the Joyfully Jay review blog.

Rating: 4.75 stars

Buy Links:  Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

It’s the year 2055, and the Christian Fundamentalists have taken over the government of America. Those with enough money to flee the country have done so, and everyone else is left to waste away. Anyone considered undesirable, especially gays, have been herded into concentration camp-like ghettos where they are mistreated, malnourished, and barely able to survive. But the Resistance is fighting, trying to bring down the government by mostly non-violent ways.

Aaron Swann is a part of the Resistance, leading a small cell of freedom fighters in missions to undermine the government in any way he can. His twin brother, Hayden, is doing the same. Though while Aaron does it with minor violence and mayhem, Hayden uses his words. Aaron has been under Homeland Security’s watchful eye, and one night they sweep in, determined to break up the resistance cell. Hayden sacrifices himself in attempt to allow his brother time to flee. When Aaron discovers that Hayden is still alive, he will stop at nothing to rescue his twin.

Aaron manages to save his brother, and with a small group of Resistance members, begin to make their way to the fabled Plain of Bitter Honey.  The leaders of the Resistance reside in this hidden place, and Aaron knows that if they can make it there, they can finally be safe. But the journey is treacherous. They must make it hundreds of miles on foot, while avoiding both Homeland Security and a group of rebel terrorists. With Hayden severally wounded, the journey takes even longer. Without the assistance and sacrifice of Gideon Tracker, a Resistance member, they would never make it. And everything is not what appears when they arrive. In the end, Aaron must make the greatest sacrifice, knowing that it’s the only way to finally free the country, and the ones he loves, from the tyranny of a corrupt government.

Wow. Whatever I was expecting when I picked up this book, it is more than it seems at first glance. This isn’t a romance, but love is at the center of it all. It’s the tale of a man who finds out that everything he believed in is not quite what he thought, and then does everything he can to bring about change. Aaron is a complex character. He has such conviction and believes so strongly in what he feels is right. He’s straight, but his twin brother is gay, and that is part of what drives him to fight the government at every turn. His love for his brother outweighs everything else. And when it comes down to it, he’s going to do whatever he has to in order to protect Hayden. I loved this guy. I admired him. I was invested wholeheartedly in his journey, both physical and mental, and I wanted nothing more than for him to persevere and come out victorious.

While most of the book centers on Aaron and his journey, we also periodically check in with Julian Stoller, Hayden’s lover. He was arrested after the raid, and now he faces his own horrors. Prior to his capture, Julian was a painter and, by all accounts, a gentle soul. We barely meet him, and only know that he isn’t a part of the Resistance. But after his arrest, the strength in this character really shines. Even knowing that one false move could result in a severe beating and possibly death, he still does whatever he can to undermine the government and uses the resources at his disposal to try and turn the tide. In fact, it is due to his actions that a series of events are put into place that make a huge difference in the end.

One of the more mystical parts of the plot was the connection between Aaron and Hayden. It transcends what anyone would think of as a normal twin link. They actually have a mental, metaphysical connection. They are able to connect to each other’s minds. It is a truly beautiful thing, and the scenes where this is described are done in such exquisite detail that I found myself believing that such a connection could actually exist. It is this joining that ultimately gives Hayden a second chance at life, and allows Aaron to do what he must to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is also this connection that makes the one ménage scene make sense. Aaron and Hayden are, essentially, one person in two bodies. After Hayden makes a connection with Faith, they need Aaron in order to consummate their relationship. I have to admit that at first, I was scratching my head, but as Chin wove the scene with masterful words, I completely understood why and how this worked. And why it was necessary for all three to be together.

I have to make quick mention of the secondary characters in this book because they were truly fantastic and well developed. Oftentimes, secondary characters can seem flat and one dimensional. That is not the case here. The author really flushes them out, gives us insight into their minds, and makes us care about them too. It made for a really well rounded cast of characters, and that meant I was happy with whomever we were following at the moment.

Really, the only tiny quibble I had with this book was that it occasionally slowed down too much. There were times I was grateful for the break in action, where I needed to breathe as much as the characters did. But there were a few instances where that break went on just a little bit too long, and I was ready to get back to the action before the characters were.

This book was full of surprises and twists that I didn’t see coming. Though not a romance, love and morality were at the heart of the message. In a society where everyone who is different is seen as undesirable, it is those who are different that can effect change. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Time at the LA Times Festival of Books

Had a wonderful time this past weekend with five of my fellow Bold Strokes Books authors at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The event took place on the University of Southern California campus, and over one hundred and fifty thousand people attended. There were several live bands, poetry readings, art displays, food trucks, and tons of books on every subject under the sun. The youngest writer signing books was ten years old; the oldest was in her nineties.

First off, it was a huge pleasure to have a full weekend to talk shop with my fellow writers. We laughed, we bitched, we bragged, we hugged, we had a wonderful time. We even sold books to lots of delightful readers. There are few things I enjoy more than meeting other writers and talking shop. What a joy.

The other thrill was talking to so many marvelous people, many of whom were gay, lesbian, or bi, all of who seemed very appreciative of us writers and hungry for our books. There were also a healthy number of straight people who were simply curious to find out what we were about. We had a huge banner, which announced Bold Strokes Books as an LGBTQ publisher. We had more than thirty people come up just to ask what the “Q” in LGBTQ stood for, and that, of course, led into various discussions of the LGBTQ lifestyle and LGBTQ fiction. We had a difference of opinion among us, some said Questioning and some said Queer.

I was joined by Richard Natale, Felice Picano, Sheri Lewis Wohl, Eric Andrews Katz, and Guillermo 

We authors found the event very supportive, and I for one can say I had an enchanting time. I will be looking forward to next year’s event.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review: Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea by Dan Lopez

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Stations Editions
Pages: 51

These tales are five gems floating on a sea of reflection. They are turning points in the lives of five fiercely troubled gay men. Dan Lopez had compiled a collection of moving short stories, all sharing the common threads of water, sadness, and ultimately hope. They are a meditation on loss and loneliness.

An aging architect must decide to give up his grief, even if it means losing the vestiges of a lover’s memory. An object of erotic fixation galvanizes men against the isolation of exile on a cruise liner. As he watches the disintegration of his picket-fence fantasy, an ex-soldier looks to the sea for absolution.

Lopez’s writing style and skill of composing prose is nothing short of masterful, making it impossible to believe that this is his debut anthology. The storylines are rather simplistic, yet the characters are so complex the reader feels an intensity seldom achieved with short stories. These stories reach deep into the reader’s heart and embrace that part of him/her that understands despair.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Japan Was Blooming, and So Did I

I’ve recently returned from a ten-week trek through East Asia, where I visited several destinations in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan. As always, I had a fantastic time and enjoyed numerous “special” experiences.

Overall, Japan turned out to be the icing on the cake. I was there for the last week in March through the first week in April, and the entire country was in full bloom. There are few places on earth that can equal the beauty of Japan during cheery blossom season. The country was outside and enjoying the springtime weather, which created an amazing energy on the streets and in the parks.

I wanted to share a few snapshots of my two weeks in this glorious country. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writing Tip: Get Feedback From The Right People

When it comes to writing, I don’t put much store in "natural talent," or that "some people have it, and some don't".  I think "talent" is a combination of passion, persistence, hard work, and openness to feedback - through which a writer continues to improve his/her craft.

But where to go for feedback, and what to do with it?  Ideally, you go to other writers whose opinions you trust and respect.  Friends and lay people who don't meet this criteria will tend to be vague, too easy or too harsh, and not particularly helpful, because they don't really grasp what you're trying to accomplish and/or how to help you.

If you don't know any professional writers, book editors, literary professionals, you can hire a professional to evaluate your work. If you can’t afford a pro, then find peers—fellow writers or people aspiring to be one—who are at your level and willing to trade serious feedback on your work for the same in return.  (Please realize how huge an imposition it can be to ask someone to read your material and give a detailed and honest reaction to it - it takes valuable time, may not be enjoyable to them, and they risk alienating you with what they say about it, or visa versa.)

Writers—especially new writers—need encouragement and people who read their work and offer constructive feedback.  Getting demoralized about your work is not helpful, but we do need a reality check and perspective from others—all writers do—and that can be painful.  But that's how a writer grows.  I recommend encouraging your readers to hold nothing back - and not get defensive or try to convince them they are wrong, which just shuts them down and makes them not want to give more.  You should get as much out of them as you can, collect the information, and then determine what to use and what to ignore.   

You don’t have to agree with everything they say, or follow their specific guidance.  I like to have multiple readers, and I look for what there's a consensus about. On the other hand, being defensive and stubborn may stifle you as a writer, and alienate those giving you feedback. The key is to uncover the real problems and not get distracted by minor/personal whims. For that, you may need back and forth dialog with your beta reader where you ask probing questions to dig down to the heart of the issues.

And then, YOU decide how to fix whatever they have uncovered, through the filter of your sensibility. You want others to help you find the problems, period.  Only use their suggested fixes if you really believe in them.  If not, find your own.  They may be trying to help with suggestions, but it's not their project, it's yours.

Your work has to please you first, but ultimately you want it to please others too.  Getting quality feedback is essential to achieving this.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The L.A. Times Festival of Books – April 12 & 13

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog, and now that I’ve returned from my ten-week vacation, I’m back on schedule.

This coming Saturday and Sunday, April 12th & 13th, I will be signing books at the Bold Strokes Books booth in the L.A. Times Book Festival. The even will be spread over the entire University Of Southern California campus, and we BSB authors will be at booth 41. I’ll be there for sure from Sat-10am to 1pm, and again Sun-3pm to 5pm, but I’m also running the booth, so I’ll be in and around that table all weekend.

Come by and say hi. If you own any of my books, the bring them along and I’ll sign them. I will also, of course, have books to sell.

Other authors who will be signing are:
Felice Picano
Eric Andrews-Katz
Guillerrmo Luna
Sheri Lewis Wohl
Richard Natale

Here is a link to the even information.

Hope to see you there.