Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Prism Book Alliance interviewed me, focusing on my novel, First Exposure. I’d like to share part of that interview here. You can read the entire interview at: http://www.prismbookalliance.com/2014/08/alan-chin-talks-first-exposure-interview/
Thank you so much for joining us today. I’m happy to get a chance to chat with you. Welcome to PBA. J What’s going on in your corner of the world today?
Thank you for having me. My corner of the world, Palm Springs, is having a typical summer, meaning, sunny weather with daytime highs in the 110-115 degrees range, and nighttime lows in the mid 90s. Summers are a productive time for my writing because I spend oodles of time indoors with the A/C cranked up, working on my stories. Herman (my husband) and I take long walks, but only before sunrise and after sun set. It’s simply too hot to do anything else but swim in the pool during the day.
In a nutshell, what would you say First Exposure is about? I personally think this is a toughie, so we’ll get it out of the way first. :D
The reason this question is tough is because there are several themes interwoven into the plot.
I see it, principally, as a story about the loyalty of family and friendship. That is Skylar’s main reason for wanting to leave the navy, to spend more time with his family, and the thing that helps him down that path are the supportive friends he makes along the way. He never turns his back on them, and their benefit is the motivation for every action he takes.
Secondly, it is about following your dream, whatever that may be, and no matter how many people—even the ones you most love—want to keep you from doing that. This is a topic I’m infinitely familiar with.
Lastly, it is a story of overcoming ignorant hate, homophobia, and how animosity worms its way into people’s lives, and the damage it causes everyone. It also makes a strong point that when it comes to violence, the red-neck SOB with the big mouth is every bit as guilty as the person swinging the baseball bat.
What was the spark, the kernel that gave you the idea for First Exposure, for Skylar, Ezra, etc.?
Back in the 70’s I was a young petty officer in the US navy, stationed in Kingsville, Texas. My squadron trained jet pilots, and for years I worked on the flight line at night as an aircraft mechanic. That gave me tons of free time during the day and there wasn’t much to do in Kingsville, so I took a job at a gay-owned florist delivering flowers. This was long before I came out. The two florists taught me how to make flower arrangements and I loved the creativity of doing that. But, of course, a navy town is full of gossips and it wasn’t long before I became the target of homophobia just like Skylar does. So you see, this story is loosely based on my personal experience. And the characters Skylar and Ezra, are both facets of me while I was serving my country. This, more than any other story I’ve published, reveals who I was as a person in my twenties.
There’s a certain moment when Ezra cements himself as a man to be reckoned with, finally, in his own eyes. (It’s not the one you’re thinking of ;) ) I don’t want to spoil anything, but when you were writing Ezra, getting deeper into the story, how was that experience, how did it feel? He feels very important to me.
The point that Ezra became more than a character to me was that conversation with Skylar about the stars and space travel, when he said Stephen Hawking was the sexiest man alive. That was early on, and it both surprised and delighted me. I just have to love someone who believes that. After that, I wanted to keep delving deeper and know more about what made him tick. I wanted him to take over this story, to make it his. By the end, I felt a very close bond with him. Because of his side-story with his dad, he did so much to help me express my feelings about my own father.
Now Skylar. He has one of the most well written inner dialogues I’ve read. He’s wonderfully complex and yet wants the simple things in life that a lot of us desire. What about him surprised you when he revealed it about himself as you were writing?
He constantly astonished me. I had planned to base him on me, but he took on a personality of his own. What surprised me most was when he agreed to do the photo shoot. My outline had a different scenario. It was at that point that I realized how deeply he loved Ezra, that he would agree to something so totally against his nature because he didn’t want to disappoint this friend he had come to love.
I don’t want to get too specific and give anything away, but the connection between Skylar and Ezra goes through stages and felt very natural to me. How much of yourself or what specific traits of your own are in both of these guys?
I’ve fallen in love several times with men who I knew were interested, but I also knew nothing could ever come of it because of circumstances. So this pattern, this low-flame relationship the keeps building against all odds, is something I’m very familiar with. That made this bromance relatively easy to write.
Hunter is fantastic, Miguel and Hollister simply made me happy when they were on the page, Mrs Collins is fantastic. It feels like you really enjoy writing characters of all ages. Do you utilize supporting characters as a way of challenging yourself, your writing, by way of exploring them?
When I was reviewing gay fiction, I read tons M/M stories that had two well-developed characters, and everyone else seemed like stick figures. It always made the stories seem phony to me. I believe writing in-depth, secondary characters is what helps to bring a story alive, make it real. So yes, I try to make every character complex, make every one interesting. It is a challenging, time-consuming task, but it can really pay off.
A lot of different types of relationships and issues are explored in this story: father/son, friends, spouses, longtime companions, enemies, loyalty, insecurities, growth. What scene surprised you as you were writing it? If it’s something you can at least hint at without spoiling, of course. :D
I think the most surprising scene was when Skylar first entered the flower shop. It was during that scene when Hollister, Miguel and Sosumi solidified in my head. There are times when a writer sits back, amazed at what’s pouring up from that black hole of creativity, and can’t believe how good it is. That scene was one of those times for me. I found it very funny, and I’ve always struggled with humor, but it came so easy with those characters. They really tickled me, and at the same time, punched all my buttons. I had the same reaction when Skylar first entered the gay bar.
This is probably an obvious question with an obvious answer, but I’m asking anyway. J Are there people in your family who have served in the military? How has that influenced, not just what you write, but how you write?
As I said above, I spent four years in the US Navy, and this story and characters are loosely based on me and people I knew. Also, my father spent two hitches in the Marines. I do enjoy writing military stories because it generally involves environments heavily weighted to men, and few women. Not that I don’t care for women, but when I do write a character such as Rosa, she stands out like a bright light surrounded by a sea of men. It adds more weight to my female characters.
Do you use outlines, or do you write scenes and then put them together like a puzzle?
I always start with a high-level outline, and pretty much know where the story will end up. As the story develops, I work on the manuscript and the detailed outline, because as the story takes life, it begins to branch out in new, unthought-of directions. This story took me two years to write. During that time, many new ideas came to me while writing. You have to go with where the story wants to take you.
Did you ever live in the Northwest? If so, do you have a favorite place you like to recommend for those who plan on traveling there? I have family in Oregon and I love it out there. Powell’s Books in Portland is a must.
Actually, no, I’ve never spent time in the Northwest. I place the story there because Everett, WA, is home base for the USS Abraham Lincoln, the ship where G.W. Bush made his historic victory speech. I really wanted to include that speech to set the timeframe and mood of the story. Thank goodness for Google. It saved me a long drive.
Skylar and Ezra are fantastic names and fit both of these characters. How do you pick names for your characters? Any interesting stories about that process? J
Almost all of the names used in this story came from people I knew on base during that time of my military career. Skylar was the name of the first man, a fellow sailor, I believe I fell in love with during the time I worked at the flower shop. I say “I believe” because that was long ago and It’s hard for me to remember how deeply my feeling went back then. Nothing ever happened between us, but we were great friends and I’ve always regretted that nothing did happen. I still think of him, often. lol
Any fun or favorite line or passage that were edited out of First Exposure that you’d like to share? I have to think Miguel may have had more to say. ;)
I did a lot of cutting, but I don’t save copies of those older versions. So no, nothing comes to mind that I can share.
Ok, here are some fun, general questions. We can even be fancy dancy and call it the lightening round. J
Last book that really made you laugh: Christopher Isherwood diaries 1960-1969. Love his writing and he is very funny when he puts his mind to it. I find that I’m reading more non-fiction these days.
Recent book that you’ve been recommending to your friends because it’s just that good: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. This book is a great modern western. It has everything, but mostly I just love McCarthy’s style of writing, which is to show everything and tell nothing. He’s poetic and brilliant.
Five characters, one each from five different books, with whom you’d love to share a meal and bend their ears:
Holly Golightly, from Breakfast At Tiffany’s (nobody creates better characters than Capote)
Sally Bowles, from Goodbye to Berlin
Sal Mineo, from Sal Mineo, A Biography
Christopher Isherwood, from The Sixties Diaries
Hassan Kadam, from The Hundred-Foot Journey (but only if he cooks dinner)
Ok, a few that aren’t at all book related.
Favorite dessert of alllllll time: Fresh fruit, which I have every morning and after dinner. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I’m not overly fond of cakes and pies and chocolate candy.
Music or movies or tv, name a guilty pleasure: I love classical music, mostly opera, although I hate being labeled an opera queen. Herman and I enjoy streaming lots of movies, mostly dramas. The only thing we watch on network tv is tennis matches. One guilty pleasure I still love is playing tennis.
Ice skating or roller skating: I used to rollerblade in my younger days. The only thing I do with ice is chill the martinis.
Place you most want to travel to next: Herman and I travel four to six months every year. We’ve visited over fifty countries over the last twenty years. We plan to spend December through February in Thailand, Nepal and India. Next spring, Herman and I plan to walk 500 miles across northern Spain.