Friday, February 26, 2010

An Old Joke that Writers Can Appreciate

Below is an old joke that I've seen several times. It came my way again and I though I would pass it on to everyone here. Hope you enjoy it.

A writer died and was given the choice of going to heaven or hell.

The writer thought she'd check out each place before making her decision. So with an angelic escort she descended the brimstone steps to the fiery pits and here she entered a grimy sweatshop and saw rows and rows of writers chained to their desks. As the writers worked on their manuscripts they were repeatedly whipped with cats-o-nine tails.

"Oh gosh golly," the writer told the angel, "I'd better go check out heaven now!"

So they walked back up the brimstone steps and now proceeded up the golden steps that led to Heaven. Here the writer entered another sweatshop, and here again were rows of writers chained to their desks. Just like in Hell, the writers were whipped with cats-o-nine tails as they struggled over every precious word and vital scene in their stories.

The writer was confused. "But this is just as awful as hell!"

"Certainly not!" protested the angel. "Here, your work actually gets published!"

A Scary Beginning

Have you ever planned a nice relaxing few days, and before it gets going something dreadful happens? You think, ‘Oh God, what else will go wrong,’ and you end up worrying the whole time? That could have been my last two days, but I luckily escaped.

Herman and I are staying in a B&B over a restaurant/bar in Hanoi, Vietnam. We’ve been here a week and it’s a charming little place. It’s four floors and we have the top floor as our apartment.

Two days ago, the manager arranged for us to be picked up at the front door at 8a.m., where we would be taken to Halong Bay for a two day cruise on one of the most scenic places in the world. I was excited and hurried through my morning shower. While I was drying myself, I bumped the plumbing fixtures coming out of the wall, and they simply broke off. Water sprayed out of the wall, threatening to flood the building. I couldn’t turn it off!

I jumped into my pants and dashed downstairs. At that early hour, only the bartender had arrived and was sweeping the floor. He didn’t speak much English, but I managed to convince him we had an emergency. We raced up the steps and once he saw the situation, he opened the window and jumped up onto the roof. I was a bit taken aback until I remembered that in Southeast Asia, most buildings have their water tank on the roof. He turned off the water for the entire building.

The more disturbing part was, we had to leave for our trip before I had a chance to talk to the building manager. I wanted desperately to explain, but couldn’t. We drove for three hours to Halong Bay, the whole time I stewed about what was happening back in Hanoi. I’m mean, because of me, their business was essentially shut down. How can you run a restaurant/bar without running water? I was miserable.

Luckily, once we boarded the cruise boat and shoved off, the scenery was so spectacular I was pulled into the present, and trusted that the manager would deal with the situation.

Well, long story short, I was able to enjoy my two days on the bay because there was no way to ignore the magnificence of the place, plus the staff on the boat were superb, the food exceptional. It turned out to be one of those rare treats you always hope for, and seldom find.

It was not until I got back into the car for the drive back to Hanoi that I began to worry again. However, when we arrived at out room, the plumbing was completely fixed and we had an apology waiting for us from the management. I feel so much better.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: The Nan Tu – Southern Swallow Book II By Edward C. Patterson

The Magical Adventure Continues

As a reviewer for my own glbt literature site as well as writing for three other review sites, I read a lot of glbt themed books. Many of these stories are cut from the same stamp, and I rarely enjoy them. Many are about sexy vampires and shape shifters and such, which doesn’t really twirl my skirts. Some deal with true life issues in such a way that touches me deeply, and I cherish those. But every once in a while a book comes along that has a unique voice, a fresh and vibrant set of characters, and has the ability to transport me into another world for an adventure far beyond my limited imagination. Tolkien certainly did that for me, as did Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clark and several other fine writers. I recently experienced another such writer who took me on an adventure filled with history and magic and valor found in unexpected places. The author is Edward C. Patterson and the adventure is called the Southern Swallow series. The first book was The Academician, which delighted me with a rather touching love story. I’ve now read the second book in the series called The Nan Tu, which is the maturing of that love story into a tale of intrigue, loyalty and honor.

The Nan Tu takes the reader back into ancient China during the Sung dynasty, when the Emperor was considered the “Son of Heaven” and vast armies trembled at his every whim. Out of this rich history comes the journey of a few men who try to remold an empire out of the destruction and chaos left by warring hoards from the north, all the while being hunted by blood-thirsty bandits and The Jackal, who leads an army bent on their destruction.

One man, Li K’ai-men, must utilize the magic power of the Jade Owl to form an alliance between five men that will form a supernatural force to battle the enemy. Another man, Emperor Koa, must assume the responsibilities of The Son of Heaven, and somehow stay one step ahead of assassins and traitors long enough to form a stable government. A third, Fu Lin-t’o, the ever-faithful lover of Li K’ai-men, is challenged with keeping the Emperor’s court out of harms way. And, of course, K’u Ko-ling, Li K’ai-men’s rather clownish manservant, who has matured and become a key player in protecting the realm. There are rich descriptions of all the characters, each one bigger than life and easy to imagine.

This is a story about loyalty, duty and honor. Loyalty (and love) from scholar to his emperor, from servant to master, from lovers to each other, and from all to country and ancestors.

As with The Academician, this story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in Chinese history. Book II blossoms into a tense tale of intrigue, court politics, treachery and war. The plot is much more complex that the first book, and more interesting. It kept me up several nights, not wanting to put it down.

The narrator starts and finishes each chapter with his 1st person point of view, but the bulk of the story is told in 3rd person. I found these POV switches to be seamless, and greatly added to developing the depths of the main characters. This is a character driven story, and Patterson skillfully presents these characters with even greater depth than the first book with an excellent blend of tragedy and humor.

Because of the many different characters and locations, any reader would be greatly confused without first reading The Academician. Much like Lord of the Rings, this is one continuous story that spans several volumes, and needs to be read in order. It is not an easy read. There are so many important characters always appearing and reappearing, and so many different locations, that one needs to concentrate to keep it all in order.

The one issue I had with his book is that, because there is more story to come, it felt like the ending was flat. I was left with a feeling of incompleteness, and somewhat miffed that I must wait for another installment or two to finish the story.

The author’s consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details kept me fully engaged until the last page. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.

For more about his book, press here.

Writing Tip #5: Your Protagonist Should Arc

Most, if not all, of your main characters should have some sort of arc, but let’s focus on the protagonist, because that’s who your story is about, and who should have the most dramatic arc.

What is an arc? It’s how a character changes from beginning to end. Stories are usually about a protag’s journey through a set of circumstances that are so powerful that they change him/her in some deep and meaningful way. In Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence starts with a passion to avoid bloodshed; later, he comes to enjoy killing. In Casablanca, Rick steadfastly refuses to stick his neck out for anyone, yet by the end he risks his life and gives up the woman he loves in order to help the resistance.

The character arc is really what’s at the heart of a good story. What it takes to move the character from point A to point B is the story. If the character doesn’t change, you have no story.

Likewise, if you have other characters who have a more dramatic arc than your protag, they will overshadow the protag. And perhaps it’s really their story and you’ve chosen the wrong protag?

There are some famous characters who never arc. James Bond, for instance, never really changes from beginning to end. The same is true for many well-known detectives like Sherlock Holmes. That is one reason I’ve never warmed up to mystery novels. I think they’re boring. If the situation the protag battles is not somehow life-changing, then why bother? If it doesn’t affect them enough to change them in some meaningful way, why should it mean anything to me, the reader?

There is one gay mystery writer, whom I will not name, who writes a series of books, all with the same characters who never change. I’ve read several, and though he writes beautiful prose, the stories are dead boring. The protag solves the puzzle and that’s it. His protag always stands outside the story looking in, not really involved and has no person stake in the outcome.

Yet, I’ve read several mysteries where the detective does have a huge personal stake, where s/he is pulled into a life-threatening position and goes through an arc while solving the mystery. So it can be done, and it makes for a much better, IMHO, read.

Most readers want someone who is involved, who has a huge personal stake in the outcome, so much so that it changes how they see and interact with the world.

Character transformation is critical. Readers want goodness and justice to triumph, but we also want the characters to figure something out about themselves, become something they were not at the beginning (hopefully something that makes them a more complete person.)

I know some very talent writers who first determine how they want their main characters to be at the end of their story, then they make them exactly the opposite at the beginning, and try to figure out what must happen to change them so dramatically. Scrooge is the classic example of this. It took three ghosts and some hair-raising insights to turn him from a miserable miser into a generous and joyous person. But he arced from totally opposite poles within the span of the story.

These changes are internal, and to understand how your protag changes, you must have a very clear and detailed idea of their internal makeup at each point of your story. That means knowing your protag inside and out, and how each different adventure affects him/her. For me, that means creating comprehensive character profiles, not only for my protag, but for all my main characters. That takes work, but then, nobody ever said writing was easy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Goal of Writing

Often, I get upset if my novels are not selling as well as I'd like, or a review is not as glowing as I think it should be. I have to keep reminding myself why I write, and what being successful, as a writer, means to me. When I get upset or muddled, I like to read the following, which helps to put things back into perspective.

From Mr. W.Somerset Maugham.

"I have never failed to read the Literary Supplement of The Times. It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours' relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone to their composition; to some even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Review: The Lonely War by Alan Chin

A Brilliant Work that will Linger in your Heart and Soul,

Reviewed by Asian history scholar and noted author, Edward C. Patterson

The Lonely War is the story of a Chinese-American youth who is raised in a multi-cultural environment, schooled in Buddhism, and then is thrust into the world at war -- the US Navy during the Pacific conflict. Andrew Waters encounters every known flavor of intolerance, but because he is well grounded, strong in his pacifist convictions and emerging from the mysteries of the closet, he manages to survive events that the average person could not withstand. The issue, however, is that Andrew hasn't figured out the reason for his own existence and fosters the best part of all who encounter him, from hateful bigots, to duplicitous clergy, to prison commandants, and to wayward young men. A reader has no better guide to World War II than through Andrew Waters' soulful heart.

Alan Chin has created a realistic war novel, not the kind we imagine, but the ground level view that many veterans will easily recognize. However, whenever we feel afraid of the progression of the tale, the characters bind us to reality -- that duty and patriotism and even a hint of bravery can overcome the direst circumstances. Even death becomes a transitional state in this brilliant work. One does not generally expect tender imagery in a war novel, but Mr. Chin constantly provides us balm without becoming tedious. The only problem I had with the book is that it kept me up well after two AM each night, because I could not put it down. Just one chapter more. Just one. This happens perhaps with one in twenty or so books, and when I get one like it, I look for other works by the same author.

Two points: I particularly enjoyed the characterizations in this character driven novel. Even the "bad-guys" developed into memorable homilies. When they are exposed to the proper light, everyone can find their way to the heart of humanity. I especially enjoyed the character of Hud (Hudson), and I will say no more on that, because that would spoil the experience. I also enjoyed the absence of the usual labels for men on men relationships. They happen so organically in this novel that anyone who knows about these things will say, "Yep, that's it exactly."

The level of research is amazing. The various cultures revealed, especially Japanese and Chinese, are to the point, and I can attest to that having degrees in East Asian culture. Naval logistics are right on the money and the descriptions of Kyoto tell me that Mr. Chin has visited there in order to take me with him.

A brilliant book. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good read and lingering joy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Story In A Flash

Had a fantastic experience yesterday. I spent the morning working on my work-in-progress manuscript. It’s a futuristic story that takes place in Northern California. I’m about 180 pages into what I believed would be a 300 page mms. After writing, I wandered to the beach (I’m still on Phuket, but only for another day) and began reading Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally. I came across a Talmud quote in the story. I breezed over the quote and read on, but something struck me. I hit rewind, re-read the quote and sat thinking about how it related to my own work. And in a flash, I realized what my work-in-progress story is about.

It’s funny that I could be two-thirds through a story and only now realize what the central theme is. I’m reminded of the old tale about five blindfolded men, each feeling a different part of an elephant and trying to determine what kind of animal it is. Well, the blindfold is finally off. And what I see is a much larger and complex story than I had originally grappled with, yet a much more satisfying one.

The cool part is, once I had that flash of inspiration, that knowledge of what it really is, I saw the new story unfold, much like a move, all the plot twist and reveals falling into place. Not the details, of course, but the general outline. It’s as if the story had been locked in my mind, already complete down to the last period, but I could not see it until that one key, the core theme, opened the door. And in my mind, the 300 page story jumped to 400, with some major re-writing going on up front.

Creativity is such a strange and wonderful thing.

On a different note, when I returned to my room and logoned on to the Internet, I saw an announcement of a new book by a writer not well known to me. The curious thing is, the title of the book is: Breakfast At Tiffany’s . I thought, ok, what’s your next book title, War and Peace? Gone With The Wind? Star Wars? Then I wondered, if a writer is not creative enough to come up with an original title, why would anybody bother to read their work? Am I being a snob? Perhaps. But stealing such a well known title rubs me the wrong way.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writing Tip #4: Write about something you care about.

John Truby said: “Write a screenplay that will change your life. If you don’t sell it, at least you will have changed your life.”

I feel the same way about novels and short stories. If you are not writing about some topic you care deeply about, even if it’s hidden in the subtext, then why are you bothering? Because, frankly, if you’re not invested in the theme, why should anyone else be interested?

Writing is not for wimps. To be good, it takes immense mental and spiritual focus. It’s damned hard work. So before you begin, for God sakes, have something worthwhile to say. And if all you want to do is write some saucy exotica, with no real theme or plot or multi-layered characters, just so you can call yourself a writer, please do us all a favor and don’t. There’s already too much of that trash out there already. Rather, challenge yourself to write something significant. Something that taps into human problems, makes a statement about what you believe, about who you are as a writer and a person.

When I wrote my first novel, Island Song, I wanted to write a beautiful love story, but if that’s all that I had invested into it, I would have never finished the first draft, let alone rewritten it four times over a period of five years. But within this love story, I wove several threads that I cared about: gay bashing, alternative families, being open to starting over, loyalty to elders, the church’s ignorant stand on gays. I could go on. I made that story a soapbox to expound upon all these topics that meant something to me. So when the going got tough, I cared enough about the material to keep slugging away. And you know what? It did change my life in several positive ways. And because they were issues that touched me, they also touched many other people in positive ways.

Same with my second novel, The Lonely War. I wanted to make a political statement about gays in the military and a slam against DADT. I did that, and in the process wove several other topics into the mix, again about family, loyalty, dignity, love. I didn’t mind spending three years writing and rewriting because it spoke a message I was totally invested in.

That is the power of writing – to convey ideals, the writer’s ideals. Like I said, it’s damned hard work, but you end up with something you can be proud of. And something that not only changes you, it changes the reader as well. Maybe in minuscule ways, maybe in ways you as the writer didn’t intend, but they will be changed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review: Impossible Princess by Kevin Killian

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by City Lights Books

Impossible Princess is an anthology of finely crafted, edgy short stories that walk on the razor’s edge between camp and noir, exploring both the humors and bizarre sides of desire. There are ten stories, some written solely by Killian and some written by Killian with collaboration from others. The collection has five stories that didn’t appeal to me and five stories I found captivating, sexy, brilliant and a fun edgy ride.

The stories I was wild about are:

Too Far, written with Thom Wolf, is a riveting tale of a rock music groupie, who tracks down an eighties pop star now working as a DJ at a popular dance club. The groupie gets invited to the DJ’s house for a party and ends up in the DJ’s bed. But his fantasy-come-true turns into more than he bargained for. This story starts out slowly, but has some interesting characters. It steadily builds in tension until the Protagonist falls into one of the hottest and best written sex scenes I’ve ever read.

Zoo Story, is a strange tale of a man who gets sexually excited by big game cats. He begins sneaking into the local zoo at night in order masturbate while rubbing his body against the bars of the lion cage. Night after night he becomes more daring, until at last he manages to squeeze through the bars. It’s fascinating and certainly builds in both tension and interest, but I found it a little disconcerting because it is written in the first person and in past tense by someone who is dead.

Spurt, written with Sylvia Plath, was perhaps my favorite of the collection. It’s the story of young man who is returning from the funeral of his college professor. He gets righteously drunk and then follows a sexy guy to a hotel room. As it turns out, the sexy guy is interested in more than vanilla sex – he needs bondage, pain, and a little body mutilation to enhance the experience. But like so many of these stories, things get out of hand and the ending is brutally surprising.

Ricky’s Romance, is the funny and weird tale of Ricky, an office working who is using the company copy machine to promote his own website. At night, while printing off his latest batch of promo material, the copier jams and, in an attempt to un-jam it, gets caught in the machine’s internal workings. Now caught, with his butt sticking up in the air, the janitor enters the copy room and mistakes him for the boss. What follows is hilarious. A very cute, fun, albeit unbelievable read.

Hot Lights is the delightful tale of a boy’s inner journey into manhood as he takes part in a porn movie shoot. This story is thoughtful, interesting and very well written. The protagonist’s character is very well drawn. One of the top winners.

Of the stories that didn’t appeal to me, some I simply found dull, like Young Hank Williams, Rochester, and Dietmar Lutz Mon Amour. One, White Rose, was poorly written porn with no plot and cardboard characters. And the last story, Greensleeves, I disliked the characters to the point I couldn’t enjoy their story.

That said, I found all but one of the stories to be well written, and they all have a bizarre twist that keeps the reader guessing. Woven together, they run the gamut of erotic experience where lust is satisfied in peculiar and unexpected ways. I do recommend this read, with the caveat that many readers will not find all these stories as appealing as I did.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Writing Tip #3 Make the Protagonist Save a Cat by page 5

This has been on my mind the last few days because I’m reviewing a novel that has kept me at a distance from the protagonist. The result is, that after reading sixty pages, I’m bored to tears because I don’t care about the lead character and I don’t understand exactly what her problem is. And although the writing is beautiful, I will likely not finish it and I will certainly not review it due to lack of interest.

Here is an interesting description of plot, from Writing to Sell by Scott Meredit:
“A sympathetic lead character finds himself in trouble of some kind and makes active efforts to get himself out of it. Each effort, however, merely gets him deeper into his trouble, and each new obstacle in his path is larger than the last. Finally, when things look blackest and it seems certain the lead character is finished, he manages to get out of his trouble through his own efforts, intelligence, or ingenuity.”

I love this description, but the key element I want to focus on is “A sympathetic lead character…”

A reader doesn’t have to like or even find the protagonist sympathetic, but a read MUST be interested in the main character and understand what his/her problem is, and it is important that the reader somehow empathize with him/her.

Readers are desperate to attach to somebody from the moment the story begins, and you want them to attach to the protag, since it’s the protag’s story. It’s that attachment, that emotional connection, that deepens the reader’s interest in the story and keeps them turning pages.

But how does a writer establish that connection early on? By writing what Blake Snyder calls the “Save the Cat” moment. In the first few pages, make the protag do something nice (like saving a cat from a tree), or interesting, or funny – something that will push the emotional buttons of the reader so s/he can connect on a deep level with this character. You want to hook the reader on this character, and the bigger the emotional content, the deeper the hook is set. Saving a cat from a tree sets a smaller hook than rushing into a burning building to save a baby. The general rule of thumb is: this save the cat moment should happen the first time we meet the character, that is our first impression should be a positive and deeply emotional charge for the protag.

Once the reader has established this emotional investment in this character, then you can start lowering the boom on the protag. And when s/he get knocked in the head, the reader feels it, the reader cares, because you established that connection up front. The reader wants the protag to win, needs for him/her to win, and will stay hooked until s/he does win.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interview: Patricia Nell Warren, author of The Front Runner, The Wild Man and The Lavender Locker Room.

Late last year, while doing a book signing at the Palm Springs Pride celebration, a woman ambled up to me and asked how my signing was going. She was utterly charming, and during our conversation about signings, glbt-themed fiction, and the pride celebration, I realized I was talking to Patricia Nell Warren, author of The Front Runner and several other fantastic gay-themed books.

Like most gay men of my generation, I have been a fan of her writing since the early eighties when I first read The Front Runner. In fact, that book changed the way I viewed myself as a gay man, and it inspired me to want to write gay-themed fiction. I’ve come across several life-changing books in my travels, but TFR was the first, and perhaps the most inspirational.

During her visit, I somehow found the nerve to ask if she would do an interview with me for my GLBT Literature column at She graciously agreed and asked me to contact her after the New Year. Well I did, and the following interview is the result. And yes, she’s as captivating in person as her answers to my questions suggests.

Q: When did you start writing and how many novels have you published?
I started writing when I was 10 years old, and first published professionally when I was 18 (meaning I got paid). This was when I won the Atlantic Monthly’s 1954 College Fiction Contest and they published the story in a special supplement. Since then, I’ve done seven novels and one nonfiction book.

Q: Was there someone in your family, a teacher, or perhaps a favorite book, that inspired you to begin writing?
My whole family loved books, and collected an impressive library at the Montana ranch where I grew up – from weighty tomes in German that my greatgrandmother brought from the old country, to all the English-language classics and bestsellers of the World War II era. I grew up reading stuff like Winston Churchill’s Blood, Sweat and Tears, and anything that Eleanor Roosevelt wrote (I adored her). When I read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I didn’t miss the fact that they adored men.

Q: What was the first story you ever wrote about?
The short story at age 10 was about a wild horse who jumped off a cliff rather than be roped and corralled by horse-hunters. Definitely my first statement about freedom.

Q: Who are the authors who most influence you today?
I do a lot of history writing these days, so I really admire writers who dig into an already-chewed-over subject to find fresh material. For instance, I loved Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend, by James D. McLaird, which I read while researching Calamity for my “women in rodeo” piece for Outsports. McLaird did a masterful job of showing us the real human face of a woman who has had a lot of myth-making makeup jobs done on her.

Q: Do you need to be in a specific place or atmosphere before the words flow?
Naturally it’s nice to get up at 6 a.m. (my brain is still on ranch time), brew coffee, make the rounds in my garden, then go to my laptop and put in 3 solid hours before the phone starts ringing. But I can work pretty much anywhere if I have to – a skill that I learned by working in a busy New York media office for 20 years.

Q: What’s the strangest source of inspiration you’ve found for a story?
Sometimes the strangest thing is that you didn’t know it was an inspiration till many years later. For instance, when I was writing the original “Lavender Locker Room” series for, I was wishing I knew a boxer. Suddenly I realized that I had known a boxer – German contender Wilhelm von Homburg, whom I had met in L.A. after he retired from the ring -- and hadn’t heard from him for many years. On googling him, I learned that Wilhelm had died a few months previously. But it was possible to dig out the story through German online sources, interviews of a film producer who worked with him, and my personal memories of things he shared about himself. I think it’s one of the best pieces in the book.

Q: Was The Front Runner your first novel with gay characters, and what was the inspiration behind Billy and Harlan’s story?
Actually my first such novel was the original version of The Wild Man, which I started writing in the late 1960s, when I was still in and out of Spain. I gave it my best shot, but wasn’t writer enough or out enough to pull it off. So the project got put aside for what turned out to be 30 years.

The Front Runner story started to gell for me after I spent several years in long-distance running, then the first “extreme sport” to become popular with Americans. This was in the late 60s and early 70s. I was one of the women activists who got the AAU to change the women’s rules, so we could run any distance over 2 ½ miles. I wasn’t out then, but I did start bump into other closeted people in the sport. The moment came when I realized it could make a novel. My original idea was a lesbian coach and her lesbian runner trying to get to the Olympics – but after a few chapters I realized this would not seem very real to readers, since there were NO women track coaches at the time. So I changed the main characters to men.

Q: Were the sequels, Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Boy, as popular with gay and lesbian readers as The Front Runner?
Both were on the LGBT bestseller list for a long time in the 1990s, and they still sell well today. But neither have racked up the record that TFR has. Harlan’s Race was a hard story for some people to choke – they thought it was too dark, and they didn’t get it about gay Vietnam veterans. It’s amazing how biased some of our own people are, against LGBT people who serve our country.

Q: Many critics have proclaimed your novel, The Wild Man, as your finest literary effort to date. Would you agree with that?
Yes. Writing the historical novel One Is the Sun in the 1980s was a big creative watershed for me – it radically changed the way I approach material, and taught me how to texture more deeply. Without OITS, I couldn’t have written Wild Man. But TWM is a better piece of writing.

Q: You’re latest book, The Lavender Locker Room, has garnered several excellent reviews. Can you tell us about it?
I started by writing the articles as a series for, where they were posted on an ongoing basis. By the time I had 17 or 18 pieces, I realized they could be an anthology. I do have my favorite sports (equestrian, soccer, track & field, endurance events). But I also challenge myself to cover sports that never appealed to me personally – like football. After I wrote about Dave Kopay and Bayard Rustin’s history-making stint in high-school football (he did his first civil-rights activism there), I found I could really get into football.

Volume 2 of TLL is in progress – some of the pieces are posted at under “gay sports history.”

Q: Do you prefer writing non-fiction over fiction, or does it make any difference at all?
Great question. Having spent my whole life in the media, I’ve learned that the idea of a line between fiction and nonfiction is – well, fiction. Trying to separate them is a little like trying to separate two twins who are conjoined at the brain. They’re two sides of the same coin.

Every novel has its genesis in the writer’s real-life experience in some way. Likewise, there is very little nonfiction that hasn’t been fictionalized to at least a small degree – if only to shape and organize the material. In One Is the Sun, I fictionalized a complex real-life oral-tradition story that I was told by Indian relatives of mine – and was confronted with the need to fill in some blanks. So fiction was the best way to tell the story and get the point across.

I enjoy doing both genres because I can use all my life experience for both of them.

Q: So, if you don’t mind sharing, would you tell us about your latest work in progress?
I’m doing another anthology called My West – a collection of short pieces about the American West that I’ve written over the course of 50 years. It covers quite a number of subjects, from rural to urban to religion to politics to ethnicity, and of course sexual orientation. In fact, I was inspired to leap into this project by The Autry National Center of the American West when they accepted the two Brokeback Mountain cowboy shirts into their collection of clothes worn in great Western films. Our stubborn survival in a “red state” region is a subject whose time has come. The book will be out from Wildcat Press later this year.

Q: Out of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?
That’s hard to say – each of my writings is important to me in some way. I do have a special thing for The Wild Man because it was such a battle to write.

Q: Name a book or movie written by someone else that you wish you had written, and why that one?
I don’t look at writing that way. There’s no way I could own somebody else’s experience, which is the wellspring out of which we all write. For example, I admire Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” but I don’t wish I had written it – because I write about gay cowboys my own way.

Q: If you could offer one tidbit of advice for new writers, what would it be?
This is a tough time to be a writer. The book business is in major trouble, because it is based on retail sales, and retail sales are being slammed by the recession. Also, the world is crossing a technological horizon in publishing, with e-books. Because of television and movies and the Web, people reading habits are changing. It isn’t just that they’re reading less – their attention span and the way they mentally process stuff that they read – is also changing.

So the new writers are going to run into all kinds of obstacles and discouragements – not only to find a publisher, but find their readership, and keep it. I would tell them to never give up.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to read and study what I’m working on. I also love to garden, cook, and hang out with my friends and my cat. My entertainment tastes run to documentary films, though I do admit that I cried all the way through Avatar.

Q: Had you not become an accomplished writer, what other occupation would you have most liked to tackle?
Probably ranching or farming, though these are daunting and heartbreaking occupations today. It’s tough to make a living there. Or I might have been involved in horse sports on a full-time basis.

Q: Do you enjoy writing, I mean, do you find it fun?
To me, writing is the greatest fun.

Q: What, more than anything else, fills you with rage?
As a non-Christian, I am outraged that the religious right would like to wipe out everybody on the planet who doesn’t believe as they do. I am very concerned at what the New Apostolic Reformation is doing in Africa, because this part of the world is where they’re perfecting their MO, which is the creation of governments that are “purpose-driven” (Rick Warren’s phrase). Wait till they introduce something like the Uganda anti-gay bill in our own Congress. And they will if they take back control of Congress and the White House.

Q: Can you tell us something about the place you call home?
At home here, I like to keep things simple. After years of moving many times, I don’t own a lot of “stuff.” My enjoyment of the place is more in the trees and flowers I planted around it, the people that come and go – and of course the daily dance with words.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
Your support of other LGBT writers and writing is much appreciated. The more we all stick together, the better chance we have of coming out of the recession with “LGBT culture” intact.

Thank you, Patricia, both for taking the time to answer my questions and for contributing so much of yourself to the LGBT community.

For more information about Patricia Nell Warren and her books, press here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gay Writing Today, a new website

Hi everyone,

I've been a member of an online gay writer/readers group for about two years. The group has actually been around for six years and its five hundred members communicate with each other via a Yahoo list. Recently, the group decided to expand their reach beyond its members and into the literary community.

Thus they have created a website, Gay Writing Today, where readers and writers can lean about new glbt-themed books and the authors who write them, read the latest book reviews, and pose questions to a group of talented readers and writers.

Gay Writing Today is the brainchild of author Dorien Grey and was built with the help of talented authors and techies Leiland Dale andLex Valentine. There are a number of talented writers listed there, and I'm proud to be included among them.

You are cordially invited to check out the site, which is constantly updated. Your comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome, and of course if you read or write gay-themed fiction, you are welcome to join the group.