Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Feb 15 Smack Dab featuring Alvin Orloff

Smack Dab open mic hosted by Larry-bob Roberts and Kirk Read

Alvin Orloff, author of the new book Why Aren't You Smiling? joins us as featured performer.

Wednesday, February 15, 8pm, open mic signup starts at 7:30 At Magnet, your neighborhood queer health center, 4122 18th Street between Castro and Collingwood.

Smack Dab is all ages, all genders, all the time.

Featured performer bio:
Alvin Orloff, a California native, began writing as a teenager in the 1970s, a decade from which he has never fully recovered. He is the author of I Married An Earthling (Manic D), a genre and gender-bending sci-fi send up, and Gutter Boys (Manic D), a novel of decadent romance with ghosts. Orloff is also the co-author of The Unsinkable Bambi Lake, a transsexual showbiz memoir, and his short work has appeared in Pills, Chills, Thrills, and Heartache (Alyson) as well as the journal, Instant City. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He lives in the über-hipsterized Mission District where he spends too much time wondering what to eat. His new book, Why Aren't You Smiling?, is a slightly dyspeptic romp through the queer fringes of the spiritual chaos of 1970s California, featuring misguided teenage stoners, irritating Jesus Freaks, snarky academics, well-meaning but ineffectual parents, and a cameo from renowned avian guru, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

If you'd like to perform at the open mic, please bring five minutes of whatever you want to share. Musicians, one song. Prose writers: that's about two and a half double spaced pages of prose. We’re the friendliest open mic you’ll find but we pay attention to time so that nobody accumulates further open mic-related PTSD.

Presented by Army of Lovers, a project of the Queer Cultural Center with support from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach Family Foundation, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Horizons Foundation, TheatreBayArea and the California Arts Council

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review: Gordan The Giraffe by Bruce Brown, Illustrated by A. Shelton

Book Review: Gordan The Giraffe by Bruce Brown, Illustrated by A. Shelton

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Aarcana
Pages: 49

Gordan is a young giraffe living in the secret kingdom known as Ugladunga. His playmates all shun him until one day Gary invites him to play the game of Mulunga Doo. The other Giraffes laugh at them, because Mulunga Doo is a game a male giraffe can only play with a female giraffe. When Gordon cries to his mother, she tells him not to worry, he has a big heart and can play the game with anyone he chooses. But when the others try to trick Gordan and Gary into a dangerous situation, their plan backfires putting the perpetrators in peril, and only Gordan can rescue them. Is his heart big enough to forgive and save them? Of course, this is after all a children’s tale.

One of the wonderful benefits of reviewing books is being exposed to a wide variety of genres and writing styles, and every once in a blue moon getting the opportunity to read a children’s book with an LGBTQ theme. I’ve had the privilege of reading several and I have found them all delightful. Gordan the Giraffe was no exception.

It is a simple storyline with equally simple words, yet with an underlying message of acceptance of people who are different, because even people who are different can be brave and selfless. A wonderful message for kids. One of the things that sets this book well above the norm is the colorful and beautiful artwork. Like many kids books, there are plenty of pictures to tell the story, and is one I would be proud to hang on my walls as art.

The child inside me found this book to be an enchanting read—both mentally and visually—and I highly recommend it to all kids, and the kids inside of other adults.

This books is not released yet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State Of The Union Address

Admittedly, I don’t watch much TV. I occasionally watch Rachel Maddow because I think she’s a sharp woman and presents politics with a fresh perspective. And I do love to watch tennis matches (right now the Aussie Open is playing the quarterfinal rounds). I seldom watch any of these political debates because they make me mad at our entire, broken, system of government.

But last night I had a choice of watching the Aussie Open Quarterfinal matches or watching Obama give his State Of The Union Address. In a rare mood of patriotism, I opted for Obama.

I made that choice because I think the Republicans have been getting tons of press time lately in all these debates, and I was curious to hear how Obama would respond, more in tone than in words. I was not disappointed.

The thing that had the most impact on me was Obama ragging on Congress for being dysfunctional. This split between parties is killing our democratic system of government, and nothing—NOTHING—is getting accomplished in Washington because of it. At one point Obama called the congressional fight over the budget a fiasco. Frankly, I can’t think of a better word for it, for what has been happening in the House and Senate for years.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox and get back to the SOTUA….

I thought Obama came off sounding strong, forceful, and perhaps even hopeful. He sounded presidential, which I feel is something totally lacking in the GOP debates. I’ve always enjoyed hearing Obama. He is a master at speaking, with great timing in his words and phrases. He is the one person in Washington that I think can match Bill Clinton in speaking ability.

In short, I very much enjoyed the address, and thought our president did his usual superb job of delivering his message, once again, that Congress needs to get its shit together and work for the country instead of working for their party. I don’t want to get too negative here, so I won’t delve into my impression of the GOP response to the address.

And of course, as soon as the GOP response had completed, I quickly switch to ESPN to watch the last of the quarterfinal tennis match between Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori, and there I was disappointed. I cheered for Nishikori, who lost badly. :(

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gung Hay Fat Choy

Today starts the Year of the Dragon. Dragons are very lucky in Chinese culture, so I'm hoping this will be a great year for everyone.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Cleis Press
Pages: 374

Sergey Nabokov was born into a wealthy family in pre-communists Russia. His father was a respected member of the government. His older brother would grow to become the brilliant writer, Vladimir Nabokov. While enjoying a luxurious lifestyle in Russia, Sergey grew up in the shadow of his older brother. As Sergey matured into puberty, it became apparent that he was gay and a bit of a dandy, which, as far as his family was concerned, pushed him deeper into the shadow cast by Vladimir.

Both brothers were forced to flee their mother Russia when the Bolshevik revolution brought the communists to power. They traveled to England where they received an education at Cambridge University, and then settled in Paris. Sergey became known to the artist crowd of pre-war Europe, hobnobbing with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Picasso, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Magnaus Hirschfield, and Nijinsky. But as his finances dwindled, Sergey became more and more desperate, turning to opium for a bit of comfort and living off the generosity of men. As war with Germany loomed, Vladimir fled to the United States while Sergey ended up in isolation in war-torn Berlin. Sergey died after spending two years in a Nazi concentration camp for the crime of being gay and for speaking out against the Nazi regime.

This is a meticulously researched novel, which recreates the rich and changing world of pre-WWII Europe with exquisite detail. The novel starts in Berlin during the decline of Nazi Germany, with most of the novel seen through flashbacks. Russell takes the sparse details of Sergey’s life and weaves it into a fictional memoir that is both convincing and inspiring.

What struck me most about this work was the lavish, beautiful prose. I’ve read few modern novels that can compare. The voice Paul Russell captures is both lush and believable. The detail in the scenes he paints is remarkable.

I did have one issue with this novel. Russell committed the one sin that a novelist should never allow—he often bored me. There was simply so much detail to wade through that, however beautiful, slowed the action down to a crawl. Vast quantities of detail, in my opinion, added little to the storyline. The emotional highs weren’t very high, the lows not so low. Through vast sections of the story I found myself wanting to skip ahead to the next chapter, or the one after that.

This is a riches to rags story, contrasting the two brothers’ lives. It is ultimately a novel about a vulnerable boy who, through adversity and a few bad choices, grew into a courageous man. It is a remarkable work.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Cover for The Lonely War (the Chinese release)

A year ago I signed a contract with a Chinese publisher to release a Chinese translation of my novel, The Lonely War. They will release the book this month, starting in Taiwan. I wanted to show off my new cover art for this new book.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Are you happy? I mean genuinely happy on a consistent basis. Do you whistle or sing when you walk down the street? Do you enjoy interacting with your fellow workers? Do you wake up excited to face the day?
If not, when will you be happy?

 Many people tell themselves, "I’ll be happy when...

• My health improves
• My relationship improves
• The economy improves
• I get a new this or that
• I get my career on track
• I move to a better location
• I get a raise
• I lose 30 pounds
• I retire

Many people seem to have a list, which ends up being a wall between them and happiness. The truth is that none of these things will make you happy. They can certainly put you in a better position to find happiness, but happiness is a feeling that comes from the experiences in life and our attitude about them. Happiness comes from within, and has little to do with all those things happening outside of you. The old saying is that happiness is a state of mind, and that saying has been around a long time simply because it’s true. Sometimes we feel content, sometimes not, but happiness is around you every day — it’s just that sometimes we have to look closer for it. It won’t come from the things you seek, but rather from the attitude you have about this journey called life.

Happiness is up to you, here and now. You can choose to wait for better days, or you can decide to look for the joy, the opportunities, the smiles, and the good in every day. You get to choose.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: Simple Treasures by Alan Chin

Reviewer: Edward C. Patterson
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 136

When I want to curl up with a beautifully written, heartfelt tale of redemption, I come to Alan Chin -- he's the ticket. And again, with Simple Treasures, he has authored a stylish work of depth. I'm Native American, so I was fascinated with his treatment of tribal mysticism, especially in regard to the afterlife. He hit it right on the head. Life and death are leaves fallen from the same tree. If hope is what we sow, our lives are redeemed. It quite took my breath away.

Simple is not a simple man. He has a past, which he records into journals because of his amnesia, which resets his memory banks each day. Like his mind, he's a drifter, but we soon learn that although he copes with daily existence, he has heaps of hope nestled within his self-doubts. Simple is cast into an almost untenable employment situation where he must interact with other damaged souls -- Jude, Emmett and Lance, all in need of Simple's brand of healing -- a course of growth as old as the hills. All the emotions dance through this tale -- love, self-doubt, rage, greed and pride. Simple is the tie that binds them all. I wished the tale was longer, so I could linger at that dusty haven of a ranch where these souls intermingle.

Alan Chin's strength is character development, although it goes beyond that. Each character is set on a rolling tide, which hooks into an aspect of the main theme. The tone recalls Casteñeda with a hint of King's The Gunslinger, although Mr. Chin's style is uniquely warm -- his story telling subtly tugging at the heartstrings. I really came to care for all the characters -- even the chief bum of the story. I love the way the characters developed, overlapping each other, heading for the same point, but then hurtling to different destinations. Simple Treasures is superbly written. I highly recommended it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life Changes

In the past several months I’ve been caught up in some significant life changes. Starting as far back as September, my husband, Herman, and I began to prepare our San Rafael house to sell while looking for a new home in Palm Springs.

Over the past few months we have held a dozen open houses in San Rafael, walked through three dozen homes in Palm Springs, found a beautiful new house as well as sold our old one, moved into our new home on Christmas Eve, and began to settle into a new life here in PS.

What seemed so easy to type out in a single paragraph actually was a very high stress, often painful experience of letting go and flinging ourselves off a cliff and into a sea of unknown. It has been a scary path, but one that once we started down we could not turn back.

I’m sitting in my new office overlooking our front yard. Classic Japanese landscaping in San Rafael have been replaced with cactus and palms; gentle, green rolling hills have turned to rugged brown mountains; and our cozy, open Eichler is now a sprawling, midcentury ranch style home. In short: everything is different, everything is new. I feel somewhat disoriented, with only Herman and my writing as constants that I can latch on to.

I know that for some people this kind of move is no big deal. They’ve done it several times and, for them, it’s fun and exciting. But I’m a person who lived in the same house for almost thirty years. That house was my life raft to cling to in a changing world. For me this is an extremely big deal.

I’m sitting here wondering how many times in my life I’ve leaped into the unknown, and been the better for it. Certainly the time I left home to join the Navy. And the time I came home from the navy with a husband instead of a wife. There was the time I walked away from a seventeen-year relationship, only to jump into my current relationship a few years later. And the time I ran from a lucrative corporate career to be a little-known writer of gay literature.

Yes, I’ve experienced times of big letting go, but what I’m realizing here (a lesson I keep learning over and over) is that every day is a time of letting go, of leaping into the unknown. That is what life is, what makes it worth living. The trick is not clinging to yesterday, but embracing now. Okay, it’s a cliché, so shoot me. Lol

Yes, it is a cliché, but it’s also THE KEY to being happy and content in life.
And the truth is, Herman and I are loving our new home, our new city, our new friends that we’ve already made. The last two weeks have seemed like being blown along on hurricane force winds, and we are carried along, smiling, and taking each moment as it comes.

For the moment—and in truth that’s all we have—as I sit here, I can say without hesitation that we are happy and loving this new environment, and I am so grateful that we made that leap. The unknown is an exciting place to explore. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." - Lao Tzu

Monday, January 2, 2012

A new novel by Carey Parrish

I’m thrilled to announce that my good friend and colleague, Carey Parrish, has release a sequel to his wonderful novel, Marengo. This new novel, Big Business, brings back the delightful residents of Number 56 Kensington Street, Holland Park, London. I can't wait to read it.

Busybody landlady Mrs. Shugart, with her ally Mr. Humbolt at her side, has an empty flat for rent, but her tenant, upwardly mobile attorney Ms. Sandra Leverock, is anything but what she was hoping for. Especially when she discovers that Ms. Leverock is the niece of her oldest nemesis, Margaret Armstrong.

American journalists Rob Brent and Jeff Schrader are contemplating a life changing opportunity that promises them more angst than joy, and upstairs neighbor DJ Pack finds himself attracted to Ms. Leverock in spite of the fact that she's engaged to billionaire Edgar Allardice.

As the neighbors settle into their new circumstances, Mrs. Shugart finds herself grappling with a past that she thought was settled long ago. Ms. Leverock and DJ grow closer, while Margaret becomes embroiled in the mystery of who is trying to buy out her shares in her late husband's corporation, and she enlists Rob and Jeff to assist her in the quest. And Allardice, determined to see his empire expand by any mean necessary, is pulling the strings like a puppet master.

Murder, intrigue, and corporate ruthlessness combine to teach the residents of Number 56 Kensington Street just how dangerous the world of big business can be.

The sequel to Marengo, Big Business is Carey Parrish at his best.

A quote from the author:
"I was very pleased that the characters in Marengo struck such a chord with readers that even almost two years later I was still receiving emails asking for more of them. Whenever I write, my only goal is to tell a good story that I hope readers will remember. So Big Business is the answer to all those requests I got for a continuation of the characters from Marengo. I hope the new novel is as satisfying as the first."

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Big-Business-Carey-Parrish/

Barnes & Noble Link: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/big-business-carey-parrish/

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Best of the Best for 2011

During the span of days we now call 2011, I reviewed forty glbt themed books, and also partially read (but did not finish) another sixteen books. There was a nice blend of temporary fiction, historical fiction and nonfiction. Of these fifty six books, I’ve listed the five I most enjoyed, along with two honorable mentions.

This is not to say that these books are the best written or most interesting books of my year. My selection was based purely on my enjoyment factor, and are presented here in random order. So here are my favorites for last year:

Five Most Enjoyable Books:

True Stories by Felice Picano
This charming collection of memoirs by author Felice Picano is written in fifteen vignettes. The author recounts tales of his childhood, his experiences as a GLBT publisher, his co-founding the now-famous Violet Quill Club, his early years as a journalist, and his encounters with the rich and famous—including Bette Midler, Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden, Charles Henri Ford, and the queen of Twentieth-Century fashion, Diana Vreeland. For the most part, the author tells his story via his relationships with an array of fascinating people that helped guide his destiny.

Moffie by Andree Carl van der Merwe
Like every gay boy in 1970s South Africa, Nicholas van der Swart must hide that part of himself that is different from other boys, especially from his father. Nicholas grew up fearing his tyrannical father, an abusive Afrikaner devoted to apartheid and all things manly. And Nick grew up being ashamed of himself, thinking he was an abomination against God.

Nick is conscripted into two years of mandatory army life when he turns nineteen years old. The military goes against everything Nick feels at his core. He is a pacifist, but the lure of freeing himself from an oppressive home life helps him cope with the reality of becoming a soldier fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in.

But Nick finds that the nightmare of living at home is nothing compared to the hell of boot camp. Within his company, he is labeled a Moffie (a queer), and his superiors stop at nothing to destroy him. At the same time, he makes three close friendships, and even falls in love. Nick finds that the one thing that is more terrible than the physical abuse he endures every day, is the mental torcher of not being able to tell his close buddies and the person he loves what he really feels for them. He must keep that secret locked deep in his heart, or risk being shipped off to a mental hospital for shock, drug and hormone treatments.

After boot camp, Nick and his friends are shipped to the boarder where South Africa is at war with Angolan terrorist. On the battlefield, Nick learns a valuable lesson: to not ask God to help him, but merely to put his life in God’s hands, become an instrument of the Almighty, and accept God’s will. Within the depths of this military torture, bloodshed and his new religious faith, Nick is able to acknowledge his homosexuality and come out to the men he cares for. His coming out somehow helps him find the strength to survive.

The Abode of Bliss by Alex Jeffers

In a series of ten remarkable short stories, Ziya explains his erotic journey into manhood to Adam, the man Ziya loves. Raised in cosmopolitan Istanbul, Ziya is immersed in his Muslim family and traditions, yet he harbors a secret that goes against everything he knows. He is gay. His mother understands, and arranges for Ziya to attend college in the United States, where he will enjoy an easier time of being accepted and be free to live his life without pressure from family or religion.

Ziya’s journey takes him from Istanbul, through Europe, and finally to Boston where he tries to assimilate a new lifestyle, yet, he keeps being drawn back into his culture. This is a long and beautiful journey. Along the way Ziya encounters old friends, surprises from family members, one-night stands, rape, weddings and bashings and deaths, and in the end a chance meeting.

These ten stories are told in chronological order and build on each other, making this book read like a novel. This is nearly a perfect read.

First Person Plural by Andrew W. M. Beierle
Owen and Porter Jamison are conjoined twins—one body, two heads, two functioning brains, and definitely two very dissimilar hearts. Growing up, they see themselves as a single entity, but as they near adulthood they metamorphose into completely opposite personalities. Porter is pure jock, outgoing, and charismatic. He compensates for his abnormality by being the best red-blooded, all-American football hero in the town. Owen is cerebral, artistic, and a romantic. He compensates by withdrawing into his own world.

As Porter begins dating a high school cheerleader, Owen becomes painfully aware that he has no interest in girls. As Owen explores his feelings, he admits to himself, and then to Porter, that he is gay, which causes a riff between the brothers, but of course, sharing one body, they can’t very well ignore one another. At first Owen is content to settle for unrequited crushes, but soon finds himself exploring his desires with other gay guys. This, naturally, widens the riff between the brothers and expands Porter’s fear that people will assume he is also gay. To survive, they must somehow learn to give and take, to be supportive as well as take what they need. But when it comes to something as personal as sex, can they do that?

Yu by Joy Shayne Laughter
Ross Lamos has built a successful career in dealing with Asian art and antiquities. His specialty is jade carvings, and his astonishing gift is his psychic touch, that is, whenever he holds jade, the stone’s yu (its internal chi power) reveals its history to Lamos. He sees visions of what the stones have witnessed.

The story begins when a mysterious woman enters the antique shop where Lamos works, asking him to appraise three carved jade stones. The stones are all from the same period, Han Dynasty, and worth millions on the black market. Lamos has never worked with such exquisitely crafted carvings before. They are the work of a master craftsman. But more than the stones’ value, Lamos is intrigued by their history.

One by one, he holds the stones, and they tell three connecting stories of a forbidden love in China’s Imperial Court during the Han Dynasty. Within this unfolding tale, Lamos comes to realize that both he and this mysterious woman, in their former lives, played a part in this unfolding drama.

Each stone presents a piece of the puzzle that tells of a love between a prince and his father’s concubine, and the poet caught up in the middle of a deadly game of intrigue. But which former life did Lamos play? He will do anything to find out.

Two Honorable Mentions:

For The Ferryman by Charles Silverstein
Charles Silverstein is not a name that I’ve heard pop up in discussions about the Gay Rights Movement, yet he quite possibly may have had more impact on securing equal rights for the lgbt community than Harvey Milk and others more famous. In this fascinating memoir, Silverstein uses the first half of the book to recount his career of fighting for gay rights, particularly in the psychiatric community, and he uses the second half of the book to narrate his twenty-five-year relationship with his life-partner, William Bory.

Silverstein’s most important contribution to the gay community was his historic 1973 presentation before the “Nomenclature Committee” of the American Psychiatric Association which led to the removal of homosexuality as a mental illness from the diagnostic manual, which eventually was responsible for decriminalizing gay sex between consenting adults. He went on to establish two gay and lesbian counseling centers in New York, and also was the founding editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, now in its fifty-seventh volume.

Silverstein is best known for co-authoring the groundbreaking 1977 The Joy of Gay Sex with Edmund White, and co-authoring the sequal 1992 The New Joy of Gay Sex with Felice Picano, which brought the original book up to date with regards to the AIDS crisis. Silverstein also authored a book geared to the parents of gay youth: A Family Matter: A Parents’ Guide to Homosexuality, 1977. So as you can see, the author is no lightweight. He has had a tremendous impact on gay rights, and the personal accounts of his activism are both fascinating and inspiring.

Bob The Book by David Pratt
Bob is a book about pre-nineties gay porn, complete with many hot pictures. He is delivered to a Greenwich Village bookstore, where he goes on sale beside another book, Moishe, whose title is Beneath the Tallis: The Hidden Lives of Gay and Bisexual Orthodox Jewish Men. Bob and Moishe fall in love, but are separated by an unlikely buyer.

As Bob journeys through sales tables, used book bins, different owners, and lecture halls, he meets a variety of other books and people, but he’s always hunting for Moishe.

Bob finds himself in a peculiar position; both he and his owner are searching for love. Both seem to find something, but it’s not ideal for either of them. Can Bob, being at the mercy of people, somehow find fulfillment? Can his owner find the same contentment? All I can say is, it’s not easy being a book in love.