Not too long ago I received an email from writer Alan Chin, asking me to consider his novel Island Song for review. I’m always interested in reading new books and getting acquainted with new writers, and I am always honored when they personally think of me for this task. So I was blown away when Alan sent me a copy of Island Song and I consumed it in about two days. The writing was pristine and the story was so emotionally involving that I couldn’t put it down. It was just one of those rare writes that makes the reader feel and know that he’s just been given something special when he finishes it.
I was intrigued by Alan as well. Where did this story come from? What inspired him to write it? I began planning right when I finished the book to ask Alan for a feature and when it all came together early last week I was floored that he would take the time out of his vacation in Southeast Asia to answer a Q&A for me. The results follow and they are a look inside the extraordinary mind of a wonderful writer who has the gift of sharing the
stories in his heart without reserve
CP: Welcome, Alan. Thanks for giving me some time.
AC: It’s my pleasure. I appreciate any opportunity to talk about my work and to let readers know a little more about me.
CP: I understand you're traveling at the moment.
AC: Yes, every year my husband Herman and I try to take an extended vacation. This year we’re on a four and a half month journey through Australia and Southeast Asia – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia – and we’ve planned a two-week layover in Japan to see the cherry blossoms on our way back to the states. It’s a long time to be away from home, but we’ll miss the cold San Francisco winter. That was a major motivation for the timing of this trip. For those interested in some snapshots and tidbits from our current trip as well as past experiences, we do have a travel blog: http://hermanandalan.blogspot.com
CP: What's been your favorite place and thing to do in Southeast Asia?
AC: Herman and I both love exploring temples and ruins. One of our favorite places to just hang out in is Chiang Mai, Thailand which has dozens of amazing Buddhist temples. We’re currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia visiting Angkor Wat and the other 1000+ year-old temples in this area. They’re all awesome, and I find them a bit humbling. For us, traveling doesn’t get much better than this. We love exploring different cultures and the way people live.
CP: Lets talk about your novel, Island Song. Where did you get the idea for this book?
AC: The story started as a short story project for a college writing course many years ago. The short story was about gay bashing, and was inspired by a true event in Arizona where a teenaged gay boy was beaten to death by four classmates who happened to be football jocks. They killed him solely because he was gay, and different. The jocks plead guilty and the judge let them off with 6 months of community service, saying that he, the judge, was impressed that all four boys were active members of the high school football team and that’s what this country needed more of. So four boys got away with murdering a gay kid simply because they were jocks. I was so outraged that I wrote a short story about fighting back against gay bashers. That story eventually grew into Island Song. Readers can find out more about it at my site: http://alanchin.net
CP: What is the message you're trying to convey in the story?
AC: Island Song touches on many topics concerning the gay community – losing a long-time partner, coming out, relationships that span age and cultural boundaries, gay bashing, alternative families – and it makes a statement about all those issues. But I think the overall message is that gay men and women can be both strong and courageous in our own unique way, finding inner strength without reverting to hatred or violence, and in so doing we will win in the end with our dignity intact.
CP: How has the book been received?
AC: I’ve been reviewed by a number of capable reviewers as well as some respected gay writers, and I’ve been lucky to have received mostly five-star reviews so far, with only one or two four-star ones. The reviewers have loved it with one even calling it a masterpiece of gay fiction. I’ve also received a number of emails from fans telling me the book has touched them deeply. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to get such glowing feedback. It makes me work harder because I want to do more to please these readers
who feel my work has inspired them.
CP: Was it a challenge for you to take two characters from different backgrounds and perspectives and have them work within your story?
AC: Actually, yes, but that made it fun. Starting out, I modeled most of those characters after people I know, so it was like taking old friends, family members and ex-lovers (I’ll leave it to readers to guess which one’s they are) and sticking them into the scenes. But my characters quickly outgrew their molds and demanded to change, taking on their own
personalities. That was part of the great fun, watching them grow into their own. For me, people from different backgrounds and perspective coming together make their story even more interesting.
CP: Are you working on a new novel now?
AC: My second novel, TheLonely War, is being released in September of this year. Also, my literary agent is currently peddling my third novel, Match Maker, to publishers. And yes, I have a fourth novel, Butterfly’s Child, that I will polish over the summer months and hope to have it completed by fall. I’m also working on a screenplay called Daddy’s Money.
CP: Who are some of the writers that inspired you?
AC: I can’t seem to read any novel or short story these days that doesn’t inspire me. It’s partly because, due to limited time, I’ve become more selective in what I read. But there are writers I love and constantly re-read: Hemingway, Capote, Marguerite Duras, Edmund White, Michael Cunningham, Jim Grimsley. Last year I was impressed by two novels from John Le Carre, and this year I’ve read two novels by Cormac McCarthy that I couldn’t put down.
CP: And what's next for you?
AC: I have a lot more stories percolating inside my head. I’ve started the first draft of a futuristic story about two bothers, one straight and one gay, told from the POV of the straight brother. It’s a story of brotherly betrayal and redemption, inspired by the novel The Kite Runner. It’s my first work that is not strictly gay-themed, and I’m getting very excited about it already.
CP: Okay...Now those nosy questions for your fans: Single/Involved?
AC: Married. Herman and I have been partners for over fifteen years. The day after gay marriage became legal in California, we marched down to the Civic Center and became the first male/male couple to be married in Marin County, California. I’m very proud of that. Not so much proud of being the first couple, but of being in the front ranks of that movement, and being able to make that social statement about our relationship. And I can tell you that even after living with Herman for fifteen years, I got choked up while repeating the vows. It was a very emotional experience.
CP: Do you have any children?
AC: No, and we’re too old and set in our ways to think about adopting. My children are my stories, and they take up all my free time.
CP: Who are your heroes?
AC: Right now President Obama is pretty high on my list. But generally speaking, all artists are my heroes. I admire anyone who creates something original, who reaches inside themselves and touches that vein of creativity that runs through their core, and then molds that into their vision of the world. Writers, painters, sculptures, musicians, film makers, photographers – it makes no difference which medium, what amazes me is the creative process and the people who have the courage to create something that speaks their truth to others. One of the best parts of being published is that I’ve met so many other writers over the last year. It’s both exciting and humbling to rub shoulders with these talented artists. I love it.
CP: Favorite place?
AC: Herman and I have traveled to over forty countries in the last dozen years, but in all that traveling, I’ve never seen any place I love more than our home near San Francisco. I’ve visited some cities that I want to go back and live a year or so to really get to know them: Kyoto, Paris, Venice, New York, Mumbai, Barcelona, Shanghai. But I always see myself coming home to San Francisco. It’s a blend of cultures and ideas and sights like no other.
CP: Favorite food?
AC: That’s like asking which is my favorite flavor of ice cream -- I love them all. I can say that Asian food always tops my list, and within that broad category, Cantonese food is what I like to eat most often. It offers a wide variety of food types and cooking methods.
CP: Favorite movie?
AC: I have so many favorites. I don’t usually care for dumb comedies, action movies, or movies with graphic violence, but if I had to narrow it down to one, I’d have to say Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, or Cabaret, or Moonstruck, or Victor/Victoria, or …. I could go on and on. Last year I watched a ton of gay-themed flicks, and saw some notables: Shelter, The History Boys, Callas Forever, Big Eden. There were several more but the names aren’t coming to mind. The advantage of getting older…
CP: What advice or wisdom can you pass along here?
AC: About Writing? About life? I’d say: if you have a dream or an idea you want to develop and share, don’t let anything stop you. Do it, work at it every day, do it to the best of your abilities, and don’t stop until it’s better than you thought possible. Learn your craft, then learn it better, then apply it. And while you’re applying it, learn more. That’s the journey, and in the end all we’re really left with is the journey. So set a course and travel well.
CP: What are you most proud of?
AC: The fact that for the last fifteen years I’ve been able to keep the man of my dreams relatively happy, or at least happy enough for him to stay with me through some monumental growing pains. That may not sound like much to do cartwheels over, but looking back, it’s what I’ve had to work at hardest to accomplish, and it’s still paying off. He’s my foundation. All of my other accomplishments would not have happened without his support.
CP: Alan, thanks again for giving me some time from your vacation.
AC: It’s been a pleasure. Thank You...
Having the opportunity to meet Alan Chin and become familiar with the motivations that resulted in Island Song, I can honestly say that this talented man has so much potential it is inspiring. He is truly one of the best new novelists to come along in recent memory and that he takes his license from actual happenings, turns them into works of fiction that resonate with the reader long after the last word is read, and then move on to another
project with the same zeal, is something that a only a true entertainer can achieve. From Island Song forward, I think Alan Chin is going to be turning out one hit after another for a long time.