Thursday, September 18, 2014

Writing Tip: Using of Copyrighted Material

There once was a time when you could include a few lines of a song or poem, or quote another book, and no one cared. That time is gone.

To use any quoted material from a work under copyright, you must have official permission from the rights holder. In the case of a published work, this is almost always the publisher, and it will cost money. Expect to pay $250-$500 for up to 100 words for the first 5,000 copies sold (although some may set the maximum at 2,000), after which an additional fee may be required. Fees of $1,000 and more are not out of the question.

Phrases that have been used so often ("Make My Day.") can still be used with impunity, although even then it's technically a copyright violation. 

If you're determined to use a bit of copyrighted material, it's your job to obtain the necessary permission. It takes time and money.

Be aware that when it comes to copyrighted material these days "just a little" is too much.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Excerpt from my new novel: First Exposure


Tuesdays are the days I showcase my work on this blog. Today, I'd like to share an excerpt from my new novel, First Exposure, published by Bold Strokes Books in print and all eBook formats. 

I’m very excited to be sharing this story with readers because it is loosely based on my becoming the target of homophobia while serving in the US Navy, when I took a second (off duty) job delivering flowers at a gay-owned florist.

Bold Strokes Book Link:http://tinyurl.com/qjqaqla

Blurb: Straight, married Petty Officer Second Class Skyler Thompson battles homophobia from his Navy buddies, the military, and his wife when he takes a second job creating flower arrangements at a gay-owned florist. But rather than yield to pressure and quit, he refuses to give up the joy of creating beautiful arrangements, battling homophobia for artistic expression. His dream is to leave the navy and open his own florist shop.

Ezra Dumphy—his shipmates all call him Dumpy because of his obesity—is a gay sailor who likes to dress in drag. He is shunned by his shipmates, tragically lonely, and uses drugs to cope with his solitude. What he wants more than anything is someone to share his life with.

Can these two men, opposites in every way, help each other achieve their dreams?


Excerpt:
The majority of the ship’s three-thousand-man crew and twenty-five-hundred-man air wing made their way to the flight deck to hear the president’s speech. Skylar, however, hustled to the squadron’s enlisted lounge where he found a dozen of his shipmates sipping beers and watching Bush’s speech on the television attached to the bulkhead. The screen showed Bush on a podium below the “Mission Accomplished” banner. “In the Battle of Iraq,” the president said, “the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

The crew on deck cheered; so did the men in the lounge, raising their beers in a salute. A bottle of whiskey passed from man to man, and from the little fluid left in the bottle, Skylar realized his shipmates were already halfway to shitfaced.

As Skylar sauntered across the compartment, he nearly choked on the aroma of warm beer, cigarette smoke, and human sweat. He snatched a beer and cranked off the cap, then perched himself on a chair in a corner where he couldn’t see the damned monitor. He removed a sketchpad and charcoal pencil he always kept beneath his shirt, and began sketching the image of the Viking jet. He softened the lines with his fingers, shading where needed. Skylar had a feel for drawing. He considered himself an artist, albeit an untrained one. While aboard, it was the only thing that gave him true pleasure.

“Why fly him here anyway?” Skylar asked no one in particular. “We’re thirty miles from San Diego, for christsakes.”

Shushes echoed from the men.

Dunphy wandered into the room holding a yellow writing tablet and ballpoint pen. He studied the remaining empty seats with a troubled scowl, as if trying to find the safest spot available. Skylar’s and Dunphy’s eyes met from across the room, and Dunphy rambled toward him and squeezed his bulk into the next seat over. Without a word, he bent his head over his tablet and began writing a letter. A minute later, he glanced up at Skylar, as if noticing him for the first time, and offered him a relieved grin.

Skylar returned the gesture. He scanned the room again. Smitty played bridge at the next table with Stokes, Kelso, and Nash. Hudson perched himself on a table in the center of the group of spellbound crewmen, chewing on a half-burned cigar and his eyes glued to the tube.

Skylar and Dunphy worked side by side, Skylar sketching and Dunphy writing. The first time Dunphy’s arm brushed Skylar’s, he hardly noticed. The second nudge was longer, almost sensual. It caught Skylar’s attention. He glanced down, noticing Dunphy’s hands for the first time, shapely and hairless, showing a particular beauty. Skylar moved his arm, giving Dunphy an inch more room, and began to draw those fingers wrapped around the pen.

The third brush convinced him it was deliberate. He pulled his arm well away and turned to stare into those liquid, unreadable eyes.

Before Skylar could begin to fathom Dunphy’s intentions, the hatch slammed open and Petty Officer Third Class Travis Bolton, the Brutus of the navy, charged into the room. His crew cut was the color of scorched grain; skin shaded a creamed coffee hue. Bruises adorned his face, and one of his muscular arms was bandaged and supported by a sling. Travis was two years older than Skylar, but when they hung together, Skylar felt like Travis was his little brother—someone who needed looking after.

Their shipmates had nicknamed them, the Evil Twins. They didn’t look alike, but Travis loved practical jokes, regardless of who they offended, and Skylar always backed him up when things went wrong, which was often. This bad boy role gave them both a certain amount of capital in this tough, unforgiving environment. It also awarded them a lot of solitude.

“It’s a fuckin’ zoo on deck,” Travis drawled in his baritone, Baton Rouge accent. He shook his head like a wet schnauzer. His black eyes blazed with restless energy.

“Look who they let out of the brig,” Smitty bellowed. “The mouth from the South walks among us once again. They even let him keep a stripe.”

“Christ, have you seen what’s going on up there?” Travis said, turning his back on Smitty. “There’s more press on deck than fags at a West Hollywood Gucci sale.”

“You’d be the one to know,” Hudson said. He let out a bark of laughter as he and Smitty did a high five.

Travis snatched a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the crate and shoved his way toward Skylar. He cracked open the bottle, took a hot swallow, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

Skylar sipped his beer while he watched Travis stampede through the room with the lithe delicacy of a heavyweight prizefighter. Travis wore one of his hand-tailored uniforms that he had bought in Honolulu and upon which the three stripes of a petty officer first class had been hand-embroidered. Skylar inspected the fresh pale lines on his friend’s sleeves where two other stripes had accompanied the one there now. His eyes shifted to Travis’s damaged face. “Owww, Trav. Fightin’ with your cellmate to see who bends over?” he said, and chuckled. “Hope you boys used protection.”

“Don’t be jealous, Skye; he doesn’t have your boyfriend’s puppy dog eyes and big, cushy ass.” He nodded his head at Dunphy.

They smiled, clinked their bottles, and both took another swallow. This competitive banter became a delicate situation for Skylar, and he felt he had to restrain himself. Even though Travis was his buddy, it seemed their conversations always became delicate situations, both of them flirting with that invisible no man’s land between amusing and affronting. Delicate situations irritated Skylar. Who was it that said that Hell is being locked in a room with your best friend, forever? He thought of that moment of freedom he had experienced on deck, his arms spread and his face into the wind, just him and the horizon, and he wanted desperately to recapture that feeling.

“If bullshit were money,” Skylar said, “we could buy our way out of this suck-ass job and do something worthwhile.”

“Give up slavin’ for minimum wage, bein’ away from home for months at a time, brown-nosing the brass, and riskin’ our lives for God and country? Are you nuts? What’s better than this?”

“Right, what was I thinking?”

“So, Skye, what’s it like to flag the president’s bird? Bet you peed your tighty whities.”

Skylar glanced at his sketch of the Viking. “Same as any other. He’s just cargo, only dumber than most.”

“Yeah, but I’ll bet you put some extra Tinker Bell flair into it for the cameras.”

Smitty huffed at Travis, “Which makes you Captain Hook?”

“Naw,” Hudson said, “with that big mouth, he’s got to be the crocodile. What’s his name?”

“Tick Tock,” Dunphy said. “Who doesn’t know that?”

“Shut your piehole, fruitcake,” Travis said. “Nobody asked you shit.”

Skylar thought about all the enlisted men who, almost to a man, were thin-skinned, loudmouthed, and shallow. More and more, he felt out of place in their company. He wondered if the navy deliberately allured individuals who were, well… crude, or if they became that way after they joined as a defense mechanism to this testosterone enriched atmosphere. The question was moot. There was no way to change them or the environment. Whenever he thought about it, however, he felt an inkling of concern that their loutish ways were rubbing off on him.

Dunphy leaned closer, uncomfortably close, to peek at the sketchpad. “Hey, that’s amazing. You went to art school?”

“Naw. Got sidetracked.”

“Yeah, didn’t we all. But, man, if I had your talent I wouldn’t be here shucking orders and eatin’ runny eggs and burnt Spam.”

“Takes more than talent.” Skylar knew how arduous the hardscrabble art world could be for an unknown artist. He had friends that ate or starved on the whim of reviews, art fairs, and group shows, and who only dreamed of sales to collectors. Some had MFAs and adjunct teaching posts, but most produced sketches for third-rate advertising firms. Not one of them made the kind of money from painting that could support a family.

Skylar lifted his beer toward Travis. “You organize this? Pretty risky considering who’s aboard. You must really love brig time.”

“Aw, shit, Skye, the brass’ll be on deck all day, listenin’ to that lying sack of turds. By the time they finish lickin’ each other’s buttholes, there’ll be nothing left but empty bottles in the trash chute.” He took another swallow and nodded at Dunphy. “But wouldn’t you have wet your panties if the brass saw you unloading this?”

Dunphy’s face blushed the color of a ripe peach. He dropped his head, intent on his letter once again.

“Hell,” Travis continued, “Eighteen months at sea, we deserve some party time.” Travis became more animated with each mouthful of Jack. He snatched the pad from Dunphy’s hand.

“Hey, give that back, you Neanderthal.”

“Lookie here, boys,” Travis said, raising his voice, “Dumpy’s writing a love letter to his sweetheart.”

Dunphy stabbed for his pad. The wattle of fat under his chin shook.

Skylar shot Travis a look. “Give it up, Trav.”

“Tommy,” Travis read in a loud voice, “I got your letter, and I’m thrilled you’ll be in Washington when we dock—”

Skylar swiped the pad from his hand. “You’re such a dick,” he said, and handed the pad back to Dunphy.

Travis displayed a full set of dingy teeth. “Sounds like Dumpy has two BFs.” His voice held no trace of humor this time.

Skylar’s stomach spun a slow somersault. He laid his sketchpad aside and stood eye-to-eye with Travis. “Say that again, asshole. I dare ya.” He used the vehement tone that he always found startling, like thunder on a cloudless day, and that he had intentionally developed for situations like this.

The room fell silent.

Skylar made his eyes go hard, enhancing the challenge. Travis bunched up a fist and pulled his arm from the sling. Skylar bent his knees to lower his center of gravity.

Before Travis could make his move, Captain Jake Blake rambled through the hatchway, looking stern, unflappable, and fit for his fifty-two years. Beneath his salt-and-pepper crew cut and hiding behind his tortoiseshell glasses were his piercing hazel eyes, which revealed his self-assured temperament. His dress white uniform was crisply pressed and his shoes buffed, communicating respect for his position and underlining his attention to detail. He smiled, but it seemed more the result of a paralyzed face than a cheerful disposition.

Hudson yelled, “Attention on deck!”

The men snapped to attention. A bottle tipped over and rolled to Jake’s feet, leaving a trail of beer in its wake. Jake stepped over it as if it were a landmine.

Travis glanced at Skylar and mouthed a silent, “Fuck!”

Monday, September 15, 2014

20 Movies That Made an Enduring Impression


 


The following is an off-the-top-of-my-head list of movies that have deeply effected me and my writing. These are the films I watch over and over.

1. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
2. Cabaret
3. The Lover
4. The Misfits
5. The Godfather series
6. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf
7. 2001 a Space Odyssey
8. Lawrence of Arabia
9. Departures
10. A River Runs Through it
11. The Wild Bunch
12. The Sand Pebbles
13. Flight of the Phoenix (The original with Jimmy Stewart)
14. Ordinary People
15. Night of the Iguana
16. Patton
17. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
18. Lord of the Rings series
19. Star Wars series
20. The Hours


Saturday, September 13, 2014

John Muir – A Superlative Writer


I recently found four books by John Muir on Amazon for free:

The Story of my Boyhood and Youth,
My First Summer in the Sierra,
The Mountains of California,
The Yosemite.

So far, I’ve devoured the first two on that list, and have been delighted by Muir’s delightful descriptions of the land and animals, and his view of the nature of man and the planet.

So far, there has not been a lot of action, mostly lavish descriptions of landscapes and animals, so at times his writing does get repetitive and a bit dull. However, his philosophy and descriptions are such a fresh and satisfying experience, that it makes the dull parts well worth it.

A few choice excerpts:

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems either long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.

A few minutes ago every tree was exited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is even flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.

My fire squirmed and struggled as if ill at ease, for though in a sheltered nook, detached masses of icy wind often fell like icebergs on top of it, scattering sparks and coals, so that I had to keep well back to avoid bing burned. But the big resiny roots and knots of the dwarf pine could neither be beaten out nor blown away, and the flames, now rushing up in long lances, now flattened and twisted on the rocky ground, roared as if trying to tell the storm stories of the trees they belonged to, as the light given out was telling the story of the sunshine they had gathered in the centuries of summers.

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature—inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Writing Tip: Prose Creates Sound

Prose creates sound. Accomplished writers not only tell a story or paint a picture with words, they pay attention to the sound of language, to its rhythms, breaks, alliterations, rhymes and echoes. Good writing translates into immaculate prose, beautiful to hear and beautiful to read.

Musical notes reverberate in tiny waves, always growing louder or softer. The same is true for prose. And sound can be one of the harder problems to diagnose and correct. You want it to flow. The last thing you want is a jarring sound that pulls the reader out of the dream.

The most common dilemma with sound results from poor sentence construction. The root problem is caused by awkward sentence division – misuse of commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes and parentheses. 

In some cases sentences are simply too short or too long.

Another problem is echoes, using a character’s name or some other word too often. Many authors use “he” and “she” too often. Also, using an unusual word that stands out too often. I have a habit of using “he” or “she” to start several sentences in a row, as in “He said this. He did that. He heard something. He turned around.” It quickly gets monotonous.

Yet another issue is Alliteration, where the repetition of the first letter of a word and the first letter of a following word is the same – for instance, the “large lock” or “walking down the wide street.”

The best way to catch sound issues is by reading the text aloud. On my Mac, I can highlight the text and have the computer read it aloud. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve caught doing this.

Once you identify an issue, an effective way to deal with it is to cut and/or simplify. Many writers equate complexity of thought with complexity of sentence structure. I believe that is a huge mistake. To present ideas simply and clearly is next to Godliness.

Bottom line is to pay close attention to the sound of your prose.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

“First Exposure” by Alan Chin— A New Job, A New Look at Life


Tuesdays are the days I showcase my work on this blog. Today I'd like to share Amos Lassen's 5-star review of my latest novel, First Exposure. 
A New Job, A New Look at Life
Amos Lassen
Alan Chin is a writer who never disappoints. His plots are always carefully thought out, his characters smartly and creatively drawn and his prose is always beautiful. In his book he takes on several important issues including homophobia.
Skyler Thompson is a married Petty Officer Second Class who takes a job creating flower arrangements at a florist shop owned by a gay man. His wife and his Navy buddies find this strange and taunt him but Skyler does not give in to pressure and refuses to listen to them. He dreams of opening a florist shop once he leaves the Navy.
We also meet Ezra Dumphy who is very heavy and is a gay sailor who enjoys dressing in drag. His shipmates both abhor and shun him and he leads a lonely life that forces him into drug usage in order to deal with being alone. More than anything else he wants to find someone to share his life and love.
Granted this theme is not new and in fact many would say it is “tired”. However, let a good author take hold of an old theme and breathe life into it and we get a wonderful, sensitive novel. Alan Chin writes about emotion so well that we actually feel what his characters feel. There is a distant connection between Skyler and Ezra and Chin uses the way they each deal with their situations and suddenly their feelings of loneliness become unimportant as they find the way to deal with them.
All of us have dealt with this issue in some way and once we overcame it, we shoved it to the back of minds. This book will bring it forward and remind us that not everyone is fortunate in knowing how to deal with life. Loneliness is terrible on its own but it also leads to other emotions that are difficult to deal with.
Obviously this is a topic that is not easy to write about and it takes a very special vocabulary to be able to express the feelings that these characters have to deal with. Chin has that vocabulary and knows how to use it. This could have very easily been a very depressing story but it isn’t at all. His characters also are responsible for getting that vocabulary into the story since they are the ones who use it. Chin chooses to celebrate his characters’ feelings of loneliness and in doing so shows us something about the art of juxtaposition and that it can be used to work in situations like this. I had a feeling upon first meeting Ezra that I was not going to like him very much and that if he really wanted to find what he felt he needed, he would have to be willing to change himself. Instead, I grew to love him and I rooted for him all the way through.
Skyler became heroic and in him, Chin has really created a character that we so badly need in gay literature. He is a patron of beauty and this adds beauty to his personality. Too often we succumb to peer pressure instead of standing up for what we believe in. Skyler is a man who is determined to be himself regardless of cost.
Chin also takes a serious look at the nature of relationships. He looks at all types of relationships and I was reminded of a poem written by Zelda, a Hebrew poet who wrote that everyone has a name that is given to him by God, that is given to him by his parents, by his friends, by his coworkers, by his landlord and so on. Each of us has many different names depending on differing situations. I look at this and compare it to the coming-out process. We come out everyday and every time someone new enters our lives we weigh the decision as to whether to come out or stay hidden.
There is a lot to read here and I have only skimmed the surface. I have barely said much about the plot. Let it be enough that I say that is a book that cries out to be read and reading it is an experience that you do not want to miss. It is an “upclose and personal” look at how we live as gay men and how we relate to those around us.