Monday, August 8, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 3 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #3:

Written by Alan Chin

It took a span of ten years after I received my Masters in Writing diploma before I started working on what would become my first published novel. You see, by the time I earned my degree, I had been promoted again to a much more taxing position. I worked a high pay, high stress, long-hour management job. My department was responsible for some of the most complex, big-budget computer projects in our brokerage firm. At the end of the day, at the end of the week, I had nothing left to give to my craft of writing. My job was all consuming, a black hole for my time, energy, and one sixteen-year relationship.

But by the end of the decade, I had accumulated enough company stock to live a frugal life without the overcaffeinated, sixty-hour-week career. So on April 1st of 1999, I happily skipped out of Charles Schwab & Co. for the last time. I will forever be grateful to Chuck Schwab, the company, and the people who work there, but I never want to see them again.

My partner, Herman, and I spent two years traveling the globe, visiting over forty-five destinations. We scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea, tracked black rhino in the Serengeti, hiked over mountain trails in Nepal and Tibet, and dined in most of the capitals of Asia and Europe. It was during these travels that I began to write again, keeping a journal, which led to dreaming of completing a novel. I struggled to find a topic I cared about. I was not content to simply write some cliché romance story. It had to be good and it had to say something about me, about my view of the world. But nothing substantial came to mind.

Then, while enjoying a few weeks on a beach in southern Thailand, I read a book that changed my life—Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian. For the first time, I read a brilliant book of fiction where the author intricately wove Buddhist philosophy into the storyline (did I mention that I am a Buddhist?). The book presented everything I felt in my core, but did so seamlessly with the actions and dialog of his characters. Beneath the characters and plot, lay a subtext with a very profound message. At some point toward the end of that book a switch clicked on in my head, and I knew I wanted to write, had to write, my own novel with a similar subtext.

I picked through the short stories I had written in college a decade earlier and found a story I had written about gay bashing, and about fighting back. It was a story of outrage that I wrote after hearing of a murder trial in Phoenix, Arizona. You see, four high school students had pled guilty to beating a fellow student to death, simply because he was gay. All four bashers were on the school football team, and the judge let the boys off with six years probation, because he felt they were fine, upstanding athletes.

The rage I still felt ten years later drove me to pick up this short story and begin crafting a longer work about homophobia, gay bashing, and fighting back. I wanted desperately for my gay characters to pitilessly kick some basher’s ass. But it had to be more. It had to have a subtext of Buddhist ideals, which of course means passivism. That became the trick, to write about hate, vicious beatings, yet have an underlying message of passivism.

I believe I accomplished my goal, but you will need to read my first published novel, Island Song, in order to find out how. The novel took me two years to write, and another year to rewrite after fifty literary agents and publishers had turned the book down. But more about that in my next installment.

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