Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My New Webpage Address: AlanChinAuthor.com

It’s been a frustrating week. My website hosting company, Lucas Valley Cable, went out of business and brought my website (alanchin.net) down.

After researching other hosting companies, I signed on with Web Hosting Hub. But when I tried to move my domain name (alanchin.net) to the new company, Web Hosting Hub’s software and customer support claimed that I had an invalid authorization code, and they could not give me that same domain address. When I insisted their customer service department help me fix it, they told me it was my issue to solve because their hands were tied.

When the head honcho of customer service contacted me to asked how my experience with his team went, I told him I thought his service sucked. He sent me a two-page email explaining how his department strived in every way to give top customer service, blah blah blah. I replied saying: my idea of customer service was that his people A) understand the technical issues and problems, B) own the problem, and C) FIX the problem. So far his team was batting 0 for 3.

I also explained that, based on his email, he did a fine job of talking the talk. Unfortunately, I failed to see any walking going on by either him or his team. So as far as I was concerned, his service still sucked.

They pointed me to another company, Melbourne IP, saying they owned the account and would help me. Melbourne IP gave me the same runaround and pointed me to another company, Scena, who owned the account. Scena’s customer service rep told me he couldn’t find my account on record. At that point I really wanted to hurt someone. If I hadn’t already paid for a year’s service, I would have found a different company.

After five days of chasing my tail, I decided to take the easy route and simply create a new domain name. I created a website called AlanChinAuthor.Com and rebuilt my website. Luckily, everything is working except the feature that sends free story requests and comments to my email address. I’ll work on getting that fixed this afternoon.

So if you have a moment, please check out my new website at: http://alanchinauthor.com/


Monday, October 20, 2014

Smithsonian Institute's Statement on Climate Change

The Smithsonian Institute finally posted at statement on climate change, and it’s what everyone has known for the last decade. I find it interesting only because it supports a premise in my current work-in-progress. The article I read reads as follows:

With special emphasis on the Smithsonian’s 160-year history and tradition of collection, research and global monitoring, the statement delivers a bold assessment: "Scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities."
"The 500 Smithsonian scientists working around the world see the impact of a warming planet each day in the course of their diverse studies," reads the statement. "A sample of our investigations includes anthropologists learning from the Yupik people of Alaska, who see warming as a threat to their 4,000-year-old culture; marine biologists tracking the impacts of climate change on delicate corals in tropical waters; and coastal ecologists investigating the many ways climate change is affecting the Chesapeake Bay."
“What we realized at the Smithsonian is that many people think that climate change is just an environmental topic,” says John Kress, acting undersecretary of science at the Smithsonian. “It’s much more than that. Climate change will affect everything.”
This kind of article makes me very happy I’m writing about this current topic. I only hope I can do it justice in the telling, without sounding too much like a dooms-day evangelist. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ebola Situation in the USA

The last few weeks’ coverage of the Ebola situation in the USA has reinforced something that I’ve known for many years. That the media has made most Americans frightened little pussies. That’s why they carry guns, they’re terrified of everything, and owning guns give them a false sense of power.

Please don’t get me wrong. The threat of exposure and death due to Ebola for people living in West Africa is both tremendous and heartbreaking, and I believe we should be doing everything possible to help fight the spread Ebola, and treat those already infected. But the risk for Americans living in the USA, is next to nothing, yet the media has everyone’s panties in a wad. Fear is rampant, and growing by the day. Our politicians and media personalities are cashing in, pointing fingers at anyone they can blame. Even those “Christians For Michele Bachmann” are cashing in, saying God sent Ebola to punish us for marriage equality. The level of ignorance of people in this country is astounding, and it’s never more visible than when people are panicked.

I also find it interesting that the federal government, back under Ronald Reagan, refused to even comment on the AIDS epidemic until over 20,000 people had died, yet three people in the US contract Ebola, and we’re sending in troops and everyone is demanding immediate action. But then, back then only gay men and drug addicts were at risk…. Enough said on that score.

When I think of the things that Americans really should be fearful about, things that actually kill Americans, Ebola is low on the list, if you are living in the USA.

Heart disease and cancer are the #1 and #2 killers in the US, collectively responsible for 50% of American deaths. But how many people have given up smoking, alcohol, fast foods, and fried foods? How many people exercise daily, eat healthy? This is something everyone has power over, yet so few actually do something about.

Traffic accidents are responsible for over 34,000 deaths each year. But people still drive after drinking, and nitwits think nothing of speeding and rolling though stop signs. So why aren’t we making tougher laws and pulling people’s driver’s licenses after the first offence?

Guns kill 30,000 Americans each year. Several hundred from accidents, 10,000 from homicides, and the rest from suicide. So why are so few people actively trying to limit gun ownership? Why do people let the NRA call the shots?

Climate change poses the greatest near-term harm to Americans. Over the next 100 years, that could include deadly heat waves, droughts, flooding, and a rise in sea levels wiping out coastal cities. So why do we continue to drive, drive, drive our cars, pumping ton after ton of pollutants into the atmosphere?  Why do we still burn coal for electricity, instead of going solar from coast to coast?

The flu kills thousands of Americans every year. An especially bad outbreak in 2004 killed 48,000 Americans, yet only a small percentage of people get flu shots. Why so few?

And yet, 3 people in Texas come down with Ebola and the whole country foams at the mouth. Every news channel talks about nothing else, whipping people into a frenzy. My level of respect for the American public drops by the day. Rather than running scared, we should be doing everything possible to help the victims in West Africa.

My message to Americans: Stop trembling in your boots, get off your fat asses, and insist that the American Red Cross and the World Health Organization has the resources and leadership to solve this problem in Africa where people really are dying.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Writing Tip: The Protagonist’s Gap

Your protagonist, indeed all your characters, at any moment in the story should take the easiest route, from his/her point of view, in the pursuit of their desires. It is human nature. But of course, what is the easiest route is relative to each character. 

What generally happens in life is that we take an action to achieve our desire or goal, while thinking: If I do this conservative action, the world will react in such a way that I will move a step closer to achieving my goal. And in life, if we’ve thought it out, we are usually right. This is how we want life to work, we think the problem through, we take action, and we get the desired results. But we NEVER want that to happen in our stories. 

In your story, you need to concentrate on the moments where the character takes an action, expecting a helpful reaction from his/her environment, but instead the action provokes an unexpected, more powerful response. That produces conflict, and conflict is what makes the story interesting. 

For example: I see a younger man in a bar. He looks my way, smiles. I think to myself, Cool, he likes older men. My desire is to take him to bed. I know my first action should be to strike up a conversation, so I walk over, smile and say, “Haven’t we met before?” – and he shouts, “Don’t you wish, grandpa.” Then turns his back to me. Suddenly, the scene is more interesting, because in order to get what I want, I have to do something more forceful than my first minimum action. 

When that happens, when the protagonist takes actions that s/he thinks will move him/her closer to an object of desire beyond their reach, and gets an unexpected reaction that pushes him/her further away from said desire, it creates a gap between the character’s subjective thought and their objective reality. This gap is where the story should focus. In fact, this gap IS the story. 

So what happens when a character finds him/herself caught in this gap? Simple, s/he has to regroup. The world is now different from before the character took the first action. The character must assimilate the change, then decide on a bigger, bolder plan of action to achieve the goal. Then they must take action again. But, of course, the same thing must happen. The world must react in an unexpected way to this new action, pushing the character even further away from the prize. Thus, the gap widens further, creating the need for even more dramatic action.

In our example: assuming I still want to bed the young man who insulted me at the bar, I might lay a hundred-dollar bill on the bar and say, “Let me buy you a drink.” And after the bartender brings a round of drinks, I tell him, “Keep the change.” So the young man knocks back the drink, then turns to me as says, “I’m no whore, old man. I can’t be bought.” Now the stakes are raised, I’ve gambled $100 without getting what I want, and what will I do next? At this point the reader should assume I’m wasting my time and money.

Two key things happen when the character takes this second action. 1) the stakes are raised and the tension level goes way up. He is doing much more than he originally wanted to do, but he is now committing himself. And 2) by committing himself, he opens him self up to risk. This is not only key, it is a pillar of good fiction. The second action MUST put the character in a position where it forces him to dig much more deeply into his human capacity, or stand to lose something valuable in order to gain what he covets. In short, the protagonist, now in a state of jeopardy, must risk something he already has, in order to gain the thing he desires. 

The measure of the value of a character’s desire is in direct proportion to the risk s/he is willing to take to achieve it. The greater the value, the greater the risk. 

So again, the protagonist must take a much more dramatic, risky action. And, of course, YOU NEVER GIVE THE PROTAGONIST WHAT HE THINKS HE WILL GET. You always want to keep that gap getting even wider with each action. Every time s/he takes action, the gap should widen, pushing them further from the goal, until the end when subjective and object collide head on. That is what keeps the tension in a story escalating. At some point, it should seem like the protagonist will surely lose what s/he has risked. But of course, they may or may not, depending on the story.

So, I know what you're thinking: what was my next step at the bar, and did I succeed in getting that young man in my bed. If you are thinking that, it's because of good story telling. You want to know what happens next... 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Palm Springs Air Museum

Last week Herman and I had three friends for the Bay Area staying with us. One of the activities we arranged to entertain them was a morning at the Air Museum. I had wanted to visit this museum for the last three years, so this was as much fun for me as it was for our visitors.

This facility boasts being one of the world’s largest collections of operational WWII-era aircraft. There are three air-conditioned hangars totaling 65,000 square feet, displaying 28 vintage planes, ranging from the WWII-era Grumman F6F Hellcat to a B17 Flying Fortress, to the more modern F-4 Phantom. The museum preserves, exhibits, and flies aircraft from World War Two, Korea, and the Vietnam Wars. Most of the aircraft are in flyable condition.

We all had a great time, but I could have spent another three to four hours there. I will be going back soon.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

House Guests

There are few things that make me grateful for my quiet, orderly, structured life chocked full of my beloved habits more than having house guests. Today is day five with Malcolm, Pic, and Ben. So far this week I’ve not worked on my WIP, only made a few entries in this journal and posted a few quick blogs articles, and we’ve eaten out at so many meals I constantly feel stuffed (because restaurants serve such big portions) and I know I’ve gained five pounds in one week. I’ve spent most of my time driving them around to events and restaurants, and then participating in those events and meals. At first I thought it might be a well-deserved break from writing and a chance to recharge with friends. Now I’ve grown to think of it as a nuisance, and I’m anxious for them to leave me in peace, which should be tomorrow morning.

I do enjoy spending time with these three. But as the old saying goes, house guests and fish begin to smell after three days. The same thing happened in Thailand earlier this year when all five of us stayed and Malcolm and Pic’s house in Chiang Mai for ten days. At the end of that say, I was crawling the walls to get away.

It’s not that these friends are annoying; they’re not. In fact, they’re quite charming. The issue is that I’m addicted to my routines and habits, especially my love of spending most of my time alone. Unlike my husband, Herman, I’m simply not a social creature.

On the positive side, the five of us did do two outings this week that I’ve wanted to do for years: visit the Palm Springs Air Museum (a truly world-class collection of vintage planes), and visit The Living Desert (interesting cactus gardens and zoo). Yes, our guests pulled me out of my rut and I had a wonderful time at both events.

It’s amazing how we humans cling to our little comforts, and how we resist change, even when that change brings pleasure.

Still, I can’t wait to get back to my sunrise hikes, writing, reading by the pool, swimming workouts, and meditation. Okay, one more day. I can do this.