Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Five Best LGBTQ Books of 2012

Each year I review thirty to forty books. The following five books are my favorite of the LGBTQ themed books I reviewed in 2012.

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin
Nine exquisitely crafted stories make up this gem of a book, set in present-day Ireland, 1970’s Spain, and nineteenth-century England. Each story is a unique perspective on loneliness, desire, and love-lost.

“Silence” presents Lady Gregory, a woman married to a man she abhors. Her loneliness is temporarily quenched by an impeccable lover, but she is then abandoned by love and forced to live out her life, never being able to speak of her one great passion.

“Two Women” tells of a prickly set designer who takes a job in her hometown in Ireland, and is forced to confront the emotions of loss she has long repressed.

“The Street” draws a portrait of Pakistani immigrants working in Spain who must hide their relationship while living in a community ruled by the laws set forth in the Koran, obedience to Allah, and silence.

All nine stories are shatteringly beautiful, thought provoking, and poignant, but these three stand out as superlative.  Toibin is a master of the written word, presenting immaculately crafted stories with vivid, unsensationalized prose.

Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel
“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.

Sal Mineo, A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud
Sal Mineo was raised in a family who struggled to make ends meet. His father owned a casket factory in the Bronx, and his mother managed Sal’s early television and stage career. Sal appeared in a number of TV spots and big stage productions, including The King and I, staring Yul Brynner, before becoming one of the hottest teen stars of the fifties. His role opposite James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause made Sal into a teenaged heartthrob. Other notable movie roles were in Giant, The Gene Krupa Story, and Exodus. While still a teen, Sal was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Rebel and Exodus).

In Rebel, Sal’s character, Plato, was the first gay character to ever be shown in a Hollywood film. Many young gay guys, myself included, didn’t even understand what the movie was trying to show with that role, but we connected with it in ways no other movie role had ever done.  And of course, we fell in love with Sal. It made Sal a national sensation.

But when Sal grew into his twenties, and was no longer suitable for teen roles, his career began a long, downhill slide. Many other child stars have had difficulty making the transition to adult roles, but Sal had two other career setbacks to overcome: 1) his mother, as manager, had spent all his money supporting his family, leaving him virtually penniless;  2) He was gay, and rumors of his private affairs began circulating around Hollywood and Broadway, and that was the kiss of death for this remarkably talented actor.

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell
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.

Songs For The New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout
This story compiles three snapshots in the life of Gabe, a gay man with a troubled soul, biting wit, and razor sharp tongue. Each snapshot—near death, middle age, young teen—focuses on his relationship with his love interest during that fragment of his life.

Gabe is a man who, because of a sexual-bullying incident during his early years, has built up strong, thick walls around his heart, and uses his cutting wit to keep people at a distance, even though he craves love and affection. Completely self-absorbed, he is also a man that during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, was changing sexual partners as often as he was changing his socks.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Special Holiday Note

I’ve received a lot of holiday cards and emails from friends and fans over the last few weeks. But one actually had me tearing up a bit, not so much from what it said, but from who (and where) it came from.

You see, earlier in the year my novel The Lonely War was translated into Chinese and published in Taiwan. The following note came from my first known Chinese fan.

Dear Alan Chin:
Hello, merry x'mas & happy new year, I'm the reader from Taiwan, I bought this bookThe Lonely War,the story is amazing and so sad in the end...
hope there will be more your novels translated into Chinese and sell in Taiwan!
I believe all the people have the (same) right to love the person you love and the one who love you.
Sorry for my poor English if there have any grammar mistake...

Feel glad to receive the mail from you, hope you keep writing those meaningful stories:)

I think I'm going to frame this one. 

Merry Christmas to all


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Review: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 377

Iconic private detective Philip Marlowe befriends a down-on-his-luck war veteran who seems to struggle with alcoholism. Marlowe soon finds that Terry Lennox struggles with more than booze, he has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife who ends up murdered. Terry Lennox goes on the lam, but not before involving Marlowe in the whole confusing mess. The harder Marlowe fights to extricate himself from the quicksand of mystery, the deeper he sinks.

For many years I’ve been hearing from writers I respect that Chandler is a must read. The Long Goodbye was my introduction to this famous mystery writer and I was pleasantly impressed. The story introduces an ensemble of interesting characters and weaves an impressively complex plot that keeps the reader turning pages long into the night.

Each scene swings back and forth between danger and humor, between suspense and reward. He constantly uncovers character traits, and also truths about the human condition. The reader can’t help but fall in love with Marlowe, who blends a tough brashness with steadfast integrity.

The prose rises to superlative eloquence, and the reader soon discovers they are in the hands of a master craftsman, who hypnotizes with words while weaving his web. Chandler is not merely a gifted storyteller, he is a stylist, and artist with vision.

Chandler is, as so many fellow writers have proclaimed, a must read.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Phone-app For Your Toilet???

Okay, this whole smartphone-crazed culture is taking things too far. I’ve watched couples in coffee shops who don’t say a word to each other because each is too busy texting, and I’ve been in dinner conversations where one or more people suddenly drop out of the conversation because what’s on their phone is more interesting than talking with the people they’re with.

And for the life of me, I don’t understand how people can read novels on that tiny screen, or movies for that matter. Many people, however, seem to love doing just that. That’s why there is chocolate and vanilla, people have different tastes.

It seems to me that some people are using their phones, not so much to stay in touch with each other, but to remove themselves from society, too build a wall around them with this little window into the outside world.

I’m okay with all that. I am. I understand that there are many useful apps that make a complicated life easier. But I also believe you can take things too far, and I think the Japanese firm Lixil has just crossed the line by launching a smartphone-friendly toilet that you control via its very own Android app.

The Satis toilet allows users to open and close the lid remotely, moderate the jet spray feature, pipe music through the toilet's built-in speakers, keep a diary of your every movement, and monitor your electricity and water use.

This takes the smart-phone, IMHO, out of the realm of useful and into the territory of status symbol. Are people really so lazy they can’t turn and flip a manual button? I don’t think so. And who the hell needs a diary of bowel movements? Is life really getting to the point where a person can’t take a shit without their phone? I’m sorry, this is a ridiculous display of prestige.

In a world still saddled with wars, violence, hunger, poverty, why are intelligent people spending their time and energy on these kinds of products?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writing Tip: Unlikeable Protagonists

Many writers, and I’ve done this myself, spend a great deal of energy making their protagonists jump through hoops in order to make them likeable. And admittedly, many readers demand that the protagonist be sweet and charming, or at least someone they can adore. 

Yet, many of literature’s most interesting and often most beloved characters are despicable rogues. One of my favorites is Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs series of films. He’s a coldblooded killer, with no remorse at all. Yet, he fascinated me. Without Lecter, those movies would have been unbelievably boring. His dark character brought them to life. He stole the show. Look at any movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. I’ve never seen a likeable character in any of his films. 

So what makes us cheer for a contemptible character? As a fellow writer, Damon Suede, put it: “Unlikeable behavior is not what makes a character unappealing, but rather the context of that behavior. We often want these characters to behave awfully, and take pleasure in the wreckage they generate. So I don’t think it’s actually likeability that’s the issue.”

What readers need is a way to interface with a character. Hannibal Lecter, for example, was in fact a ruthless killer, yet he became very protective of Clarice Starling. That protectiveness was a thread the reader could relate to. He also was a competent artist and loved classical music, two more threads. When talking to Clarice, he had impeccable manners, another thread. He was not at all likeable, yet he had elements that most viewers could relate to. The writers gave him traits that viewers found accessible. 

Another great example is Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. Selfish, conniving, ruthless. But going from riches to rags and living through the devastation of the war, we understand her perfectly. We connected, and we even sympathized. 

So go ahead and make your characters all assholes. Just be sure that within the context you place them, give them traits that will be accessible to the reader. Place them in mounting conflict that explains why they behave badly. And it always helps to make the villains more despicable than the protagonists. :-)

If you find that your characters have become annoying rather than enthralling, then revisit how the context, stakes and escalating conflict affect their values and behavior, rather than trying to make them more likable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Inspiration Behind Daddy’s Money

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my writing on this blog. Since my newest novel, Daddy’s Money, released this month, I’d like to give a little background on how I came to write that story of family love and heartbreak.

One of my favorite movies of all time was Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, both for the story line and also because I’m a huge Tracy/Hepburn fan. But the other thing I love about that movie is how they tackled a serious subject with grace and humor, and presented it with flawless characters.

For years I wanted to write a gay Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, but I could never muster enough interest in writing a story where a son brings his boyfriend home to meet the parents. I had no desire to write a simple ‘coming out’ story. That has been done a million times.

But two years ago I got a flash in inspiration. What if the father is a closeted gay man, who is supporting a young man that he meets for sex once a week. And, of course, that young man, unbeknown to anybody, is his son’s boyfriend.

That was the spark of interest I needed. Now, instead of it being a coming-out story for the son, it is a story where a father and son are both in love with the same man. Throw in a pregnant teen sister to add a little comedy, and an overbearing mother for a dash of villainy, and you have a dysfunctional family where each member holds deep secrets.  

And of course, as with any good story, as the layers of this family are pealed away, all the secrets must be exposed and dealt with—the lies, the secrets, the betrayals, and also the joys and finding new love.

Like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Daddy’s Money deals with many troubling issues in a lighter, often humorous way. It has it’s moments of tense drama, as do all my novels, but there is a playful side as well.

By the end, it turns into a warm and rewarding story that delves into the traditional family vs. alternative family themes, and I believe will it satisfy a reader’s sense of romance as well as their sense of justice.

I spent a year writing this story as a screenplay in hopes of making it into a movie.  I have found a director willing to make the movies. We are now trying to raise money for the project.  I wrote the novel in 2012, and it has recently been published by Dreamspinner Press.  You can check it out here: