Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: The Lonely War by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Edward C. Patterson

Published by Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 303

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

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, July 30, 2012


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” ~Henry David Thoreau

It seems like every day or so, I see events happening on the net where other writers I’m familiar with are out there promoting themselves and their books. Group chat sessions, guest blogging, attending conferences, holding contests, slapping pictures of naked men on FB. When I see it, that voice in my head says, “You should jump in and do that too.” Then the conflict begins.

On the one hand, I do want to promote my books and expand my readership. I’m proud of my work and want people to enjoy what I’ve struggled to accomplish. On the other hand, I’ve been told not to promote my books, I need to promote myself, and I simply dislike talking about myself.

I’m an introvert, I hate big crowds, I dislike chatting online, and I loath gabbing about myself. I like to sit in a room alone, open my heart, and pour my soul on to the page. That’s how I talk about myself, through fictional characters. I put on their mask and speak through them. Take me out of that lonely room, and I clam up.

I do, however, enjoy engaging people in a face-to-face, one-on-one situation. Give me a glass of wine on a patio at sunset and I’ll talk all night, not so much about myself or my work, but a two-way exchange of ideas.

I often feel the need to create some workable balance between my spiritual/personal growth through work and the part of my life where I need to put myself out there to promote my work.

So why do I question my instincts, and try to change my habits?
I do it because I think I should want to be more successful (in terms of how many people read my books), because other people do it and it seems to work for them, because this is my profession and if I don’t do it nobody else will, and because I fear I may be somehow missing out.

Ultimately, I generate a flurry of mental drama just to avoid standing by my own convictions, and accepting there’s nothing wrong with them. Ironically, I end up missing out on what I actually want to do when I worry about what I might be missing by not doing something else.
I suspect many of us push ourselves to do things because we think we should. I understand that sometimes we need to do things we don’t enjoy, if they’re part of a larger process we’re committed to.

But when it comes to the big decisions about where we’re going professionally, or how we spend our time, don’t we owe it to ourselves to recognize what makes us happy and what doesn’t?

Acting against our instincts only reinforces that there’s something wrong with them—and there isn’t. There are no right or wrong choices. My “right” path must look totally different that every other writer, and all are entirely valid.

So for at least for today, I think I’ll allow myself to be drawn to what genuinely feels right without questioning myself. And I’m hoping that you will do the same.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review: Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Nal Books
Pages: 233

“I am a homosexual. I am a drug addict. I am a genius.” —Truman Capote

Between July, 1982 and August 1984, writer Lawrence Grobel recorded many interview sessions with Truman Capote for what they both agreed would be the definitive in-depth interview with the great writer. This book is the remarkable result of those conversations. As startling, candid, and controversial as the man himself, these interviews have become a key part of the Capote legacy.

I have always been enchanted by Capote’s stories, and reading this book I became mesmerized by the man behind those stories. He had a genius that elevated talk to art, and gossip to literature. He bedazzles with brilliant insight, and also reveals a condescending pettiness toward many of his contemporaries.

I found Truman’s revelations about himself both candid and illuminating when talking about his childhood, early fame, his sexuality, and his battle with drugs and alcohol. The author also has much to say about the rich and famous, including Jacqueline Onassis, Norman Mailer, Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, Elizabeth Taylor to mention a few, and these conversations about others tend to reveal more about Capote than the people being discussed.

“I came to understand that death is the central factor of life. And the simple comprehension of this fact alters your entire perspective…. The experience served to heighten my feeling of the tragic view of life, which I’ve always held and which accounts for the side of me that appears extremely frivolous; that part of me is always standing in ta darkened hallway, mocking tragedy and death. That’s why I love champagne and stay at the Ritz.” –Capote 

This is a must read for anyone who enjoys Truman Capote’s stories. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

National Tequila Day sale!

Okay, so we aren't really celebrating National Tequila Day. Dreamspinner Press, however, is celebrating having sold 1.5 million books since we opened five years ago, but regardless of the reason, everything *in stock *at the web site is 25% off from now through July 31.

That means, of course, that all Alan Chin books are on sale, so this is a great time to stock up, perhaps find some other author you've heard about. Check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/ckcahax 

Dreamspinner Press... Where Dreams Come True ...
Publishers of Quality M/M Romance Novels, Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kindness Restored My Faith

After a week filled with horrific human-caused tragedy and ever back-biting political squabbling, the world looked decidedly black. Then my faith and hopes for mankind were suddenly restored, if only by the width of an eye-lash, when I received a letter and shipping box from the lovely family who bought my San Rafael, California house seven months ago.

When Tony and Francesca purchased my house back in December, I happen to let it slip that one of the things I will miss the most about the house was the plum tree in the backyard. We not only enjoyed plums every summer, but my mother and sisters would drive up from San Jose every July and we would can four dozen quarts of plum jam. It was something I looked forward to every year.

Yesterday, UPS delivered a small crate of tree-ripened plums and a letter from Tony and Francesca. The letter told of how they had searched for almost two years for a house and were at the end of their rope when they found the house of their dreams—my house. They thanked Herman and I for all the extra effort we when through to insure the sale went through (it was a bumpy ride that didn’t come together until the last minute) and they told of how they and their two children have come to love that house, and the new neighbors who have become close friends. They are now living their dream, and said it was one of their greatest blessings that Herman and I came into their lives.

Needless to say, Herman and I are thrilled that Tony and his lovely family have found happiness in the house I lived in for thirty years. We weren’t sure until today how they really felt about the house, but reading their letter brought tears to both our eyes (what can I say, we’re so gay.)

That letter pulled me back to the reality that there are billions of Tony and Francescas in the world, good loving people who are grateful for small blessings and who go out of their way to spread joy in other people’s lives.

Thank you, Tony and Francesca, for your kindness and for helping me see the goodness that surrounds me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writing Tip #38 Three Kinds of Feelings a Reader Experiences

I read in a book (Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias) that there are three kinds of feelings a reader can experience while reading a book—boredom, interest, and WOW! Funny enough, with many books I experience all three over and over again. It is a rare book that can WOW me on every page, yet that is what we writers try (or should try) to do. In fact, I find it much more the case that most books bore me on the majority of pages, with a sprinkling of interest scattered through the book.

Some stories wow me because the prose is unique, poetic, and fire my imagination. I mean, some writers can paint portraits or landscapes with a few well-chosen words, like Zen brush strokes. Sometimes the wow comes from brilliant and valuable insights, which is difficult to put on every page. For the most part, I think the wow comes when the story engages the reader emotionally through drama.

As Cordon Lish said: “It’s not about what happens to the people on a page; it’s about what happens to a reader in his heart and mind.”

That, in my not-so humble opinion, is what a writer should strive for on every page, to touch those emotional buttons within the reader, sometimes gently and sometimes brutally. That’s why people read fiction, to ride an emotional rollercoaster. They want to feel something. They put themselves into the characters skin and feel the joy, sorrow, pain, bewilderment, and tension that the characters feel.

Emotion means “disturbance” from the Latin “to disturb or agitate.” The writer’s job is to disturb the reader, move their hearts and minds by the words you string together on the page. It’s what the reader demands. It’s why the plopped down twenty bucks for your book. They want a emotional ride, and they want it on each and every page.

It’s important here to distinguish between a character’s emotions and the reader’s emotions. Sometimes, in a comedy for example, a character might be being dragged through hell but the reader’s response might be laughter. In a thriller, the protagonist is often calm and unaware, yet the reader is tense because he knows something the character doesn’t. Sometimes you want the reader to experience the same emotions that your characters are feeling, and sometimes you want the reader feeling something entirely different. A good writer focus more on the reader’s emotions than they do on the character’s emotions.

Bottom line: it’s not enough to write a well-structured plot where the protagonist follows the hero’s journey and changes his perspective at the end. It’s not enough to offer brilliant insights every dozen pages or so. A writer needs to reach into the reader’s gut on page one, and keep massaging those emotional buttons throughout the story. Easy Peasy right?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Brand

Tuesday is the day I blog about my books and today I wanted to delve into the brand I’m trying to create for myself.

A brand is more than a tag line or a catchy slogan, it’s a promise to readers. It is what makes your reputation. And what makes this promise is everything a writer does; it’s your prose voice, your genre, what themes you write about, your public image, what makes you different from other authors in your genre. It’s everything about you. In short, a brand conveys who you are to the reading public.

I like to think that the audiences for my books are readers who want more than an entertaining read. There are plenty of choices for entertaining reads all over the net. In my mind, they want hope, inspiration, maybe even a new life (even if only for several hours). My books offer them an escape where they can see critical life lessons through another person’s eyes. They can experience the whole range of emotions, and walk away refreshed, satisfied, knowing that life, for all its joys and sorrows, is noble.

My stories are built on universal themes we all relate to, and with those themes I try to create a “feel good” message that allows people to better appreciate their own lives and situations.

That is my brand, my promise: that my readers—through my stories and themes and characters—will be drawn in, make those characters their own, and experience their own issues from a different set of eyes, ears, feelings, and they will walk away a somewhat wiser, somewhat happier person.

Yes, I know that’s a bold promise. It is, I think, what all good fiction writers strive for, and I’m striving to be a first-rate fiction writer. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Violence Lust

I rarely comment on politics or current events because I seldom pay enough attention to what goes on in the world to be any kind of authority. But I couldn’t help being pulled into the drama unfolding over the shooting at the Dark Night Rises screening in Colorado. I must admit I’m sickened by what’s happened, not so much by the shooting itself, but by our society’s response to it, which has been talk, talk, talk.

I forget where I read it, but I remember a quote from some literary that a bold action should be responded to with action, not dialog.

But what I see happening in the tragedy, as with so many other mass shootings, is everyone engaging in a lustful orgy of words, all screaming loudly so their voice is heard. It confirms my long held belief that Americans have become addicted to violence. They crave it, relish it, wallow in it, watch it day and night in the theaters, on the tube, in the streets.

I saw a surprising stat on Twitter yesterday (and because it’s twitter we must take it with a grain of salt) that last year’s shooting deaths in the UK were 58 victims, USA were 8,489.

What will it take for Americans to put people’s safety over their lust for violence? What will it take for people to demand that Congress pass laws banning all gun and ammunition sales, and boycott any movie or TV show that spectacles gratuitous violence?

Do we wait until every man, woman, and child is packing a sidearm and shootouts on the streets become common, everyday occurrences?

The question in my mind is, how bad must it get before YOU take action? How many more people will needlessly die before YOU will actually do something about it—twenty thousand? Two million? Or will just watching your own family members murdered do the trick?

How high must the death toll grow before the nation tells the NRA that killing—targeting humans or animals—is not a sport?

There, I’ve stood on my soapbox and added my voice to all the words flying around about the shooting. But I’ve also taken action. Several years ago, I began to boycott any movie that showed killing; I haven’t watched commercial TV in over a decade; I have written to my congress person demanding action on gun control; and I vote for candidates who support stiffer gun controls.

Please join me. Take positive actions against guns.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Review: Purgatory by Jeff Mann

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Bear Bones Books
Pages: 272

During the final days of the American Revolution, Drew, a Herculean Yankee, is captured by a ragtag Confederate band. He is put in the custody of Ian, a war-weary Southerner who has seen too much brutality inflicted on prisoners by his commanding officer, who also happens to be Ian’s uncle.

While on the run from the Yankees and being driven toward Purgatory Mountain, Drew is made a martyr, whipped and beaten and humiliated for all the sins of General Sheridan’s rampage and the frustration of the Confederates’ realization that they are losing the war.   But then the unexpected happens, Ian and Drew—captor and captive—find themselves drawn together. As a fragile love blossoms, Ian must find the courage to defy his uncle, and Ian and Drew must discovery a way to save each other from catastrophe.

This is an exquisitely written story. Jeff Mann’s command of prose is inspiring. He captures a voice that, line by line, is pure pleasure to read, to reread, to wallow in.

This story is never rushed. It takes place within the span of a week or two, and there is much packed into that timeframe. The pace is slow, often at a snail’s gate, giving the protagonist much time for reflection, and allowing plenty of time for a relationship to bud at a lifelike pace.

The tale is written in first person and present tense, which gives it an intimacy much like reading a personal letter or diary. However, I was not able to wrap my head around reading an historical account written in present tense. It simply felt strange, and I was unable to fully immerse myself in the story because of it.

For me, the book had two flaws. It took most of the story for Ian to do what he knew was just, which admittedly gave him a beautiful arc. But early on, I felt he was a coward, and I didn’t like him. By the time he finally grew a spine, it was too late for me. Along that same theme, I did not find it at all plausible that Drew could be so brutalized and dehumanized by his captors while Ian stood by, and still find it in his heart to forgive Ian, which, of course, was the point the entire story hung on.

Historical buffs will no doubt relish this story. Fans of gay romance who can easily suspend belief regardless of how implausible the story is will also enjoy this read.