Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rules vs Principles in writing

Started reading a new book about writing screenplays: Story by Robert McKee.

He started the book off with an introduction that outline a number of cliches regarding writing in general, but the first paragraph of the intro I took a shine to. That was:

A rule says, "you must do it this way." A principle says, "This works. . . and has through all remembered time." The difference is crucial. Your work needn't be modeled after the "well-made" play; rather, it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.

I like the idea of mastering the form, if I could only figure out what the hell it is....

Hopefully this book will tell me... Am I asking for the moon? No. Many others have learned. All it takes is someone to show the way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Response From Lambda about discrimination

Last week I posted an article claiming that the Lambda Literary Awards were practicing discrimination against non-gay and lesbian authors. Since then, the Lambda committee has issues a position statement. The following is their statement:

Clarification of Lambda Literary Foundation Policy Guidelines of Nominations, 2009 Lambda Literary Awards, from Katherine V. Forrest, Interim President, Board of Trustees

September 25, 2009 - The Board of Lambda Literary Foundation, under the leadership of Christopher Rice, spent much of last year discussing how our literature has evolved, and the actual mission of the Foundation given the perilous place we find ourselves in with our drastically changed market conditions. We also took into consideration the despair of our own writers when a heterosexual writer, who has written a fine book about us, wins a Lambda Award, when one or more of our own LGBT writers may have as a Finalist a book that may be the only chance in a career at a Lambda Literary Award.

We discussed two essential questions: who we are, what we are here to accomplish. We discussed every single word of this, our Mission statement: The Lambda Literary Foundation is dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people throughout society by rewarding and promoting excellence among LGBT writers who use their work to explore LGBT lives.

Lambda Literary Foundation is a service organization for our writers. Our LGBT family of writers. We celebrate those who support our writers, those in all the allied areas of our literature: our readers, publishers, booksellers, publicists, agents, etc. We celebrate straight allies of every kind and always have throughout our history, with the Bridge Builder Award, Small Press Award, Publishers Service Award, Editor's Choice Award, among other awards and acknowledgments, and we'll continue to do so.

Today we continue to be excluded in heterosexual society as we have been historically. Our books are taken from the shelves of libraries all over the country and even from the website of this year. It is more difficult to be an LGBT writer now than it has been in many decades, more difficult to make any income from our written words, much less a living. Publishers have closed, stores have closed, the markets seem to be shrinking with each passing day. It seems more urgent than ever that LLF be as active and supportive a service organization as we possibly can be for our own writers, and that's what we're working on, with a Board that could not be more passionate in our commitment. We will soon have a new, far more comprehensive website connecting all segments of our publishing world, and we're determined to restore our Writers Retreat for emerging writers, the single most important initiative we've undertaken next to the Lambda Literary Awards.

As to what defines LGBT? That is not up to anyone at Lambda Literary Foundation to decide. The writers and publishers are the ones who will be doing the
self-identifying. Sexuality today is fluid and we welcome and cherish this freedom. We take the nomination of any book at face value: if the book is nominated as LGBT, then the author is self-identifying as part of our LGBT family of writers, and that is all that is required. There are many permutations of LGBT and they're all welcome as that LGBT term we've all adopted makes clear.

We hope this will clarify our policy and answer some of your questions and concerns. We welcome your comments.

Contact: Tony Valenzuela,

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Top Twenty List of LGBT Themed Books.

I recently saw a blog that listed a writer's top picks for GLBT books. I thought, what a lovely idea, to post all the books I've loved and have influenced me over the years. So today, I'm compiling such a list of GLBT books:

(in no particular order)

1. Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
2. Comfort & Joy by Jim Grimsley
3. Boulevard by Jim Grimsley
4. The hours by Michael Cunningham
5. A Home at the end of the World by Michael Cunningham
6. The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
7. Maurice by E. M. Forster
8. The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren
9. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
10. Breakfast At Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
11. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
12. The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt
13. While England Sleeps by David Leavitt
14. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
15. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
16. The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White
17. A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White
18. Do You Remember Tulum by Alex Jeffers
19. Conduct Unbecoming by Randy Shilts
20. Island Song by Alan Chin

There are a number of books with gay or lesbian characters and that have glbt themes that I’ve enjoyed over the years. The above list, however, are the ones most memorable to me. I know I’m leaving several great ones out, but I seem to be having a senior moment. I’ll update this list as titles come to me.

Please, everyone feel free to leave your picks on the comments. I'd love to hear about the books that really moved you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A little blatant self promotion

Hey guys,

I haven't had a lot of good news to share lately, but something came my way this week. For the last 3 or 4 years, QBliss magazine and online magazine have awarded people in the lgbt community with Changing community Awards. There are a number of categories such as Pride Leadership and Pride Visibility. This year I was awarded the Pride In Literature Award, both for my novel, Island Song, and for my LGBT Literature column.

It's not a prestigious award like Lambda, but it is a small validation of my work. Nice to know someone out there is paying attention to what I do.

If you're interested in seeing all the award recipients, you can read about them at:


Monday, September 21, 2009

Call for Submissions: I DO TWO an anthology


After the huge success of I DO, an anthology in support of Marriage Equality, MLR Press is delighted to announce that there’ll be a second volume, I DO TWO, with a planned publication date of 14th February 2010.

The project has an editorial team – Alex Beecroft, Charlie Cochrane, Sophia Deri-Bowen, Lee Rowan – and not forgetting Kris Jacen at MLR who have kindly agreed to be the publishers again.

What they now need are stories; heart warming, thought provoking, life affirming, and most importantly top quality stories. The deadline for submissions is December 1st 2009, with decisions announced on 1st January 2010. (Please adhere to the submissions guidelines given below.)

Submissions guidelines:

The anthology, titled "I DO, TWO", is a sequel to the January 2009 charity anthology "I DO!" All authors donate their stories to benefit the Lambda Legal Fund. The collection covers a range of times, places and people, and illustrates the universality of love and commitment.

To date, I DO has raised over $1500 for the cause of equal rights in marriage.

I DO TWO will be a similar, companion volume, published by MLR Press <>. (Contracts will be in line with their standard contract.)

They're looking for stories between 1,000 words and 10,000 words. M/M, F/F, Bi and transgender stories are welcome. There is no strict theme, but certain things are not wanted, for example: stories which undermine the purpose of the anthology – that is, no stories which are about how gay people do not want to get married or do not deserve to get married. They do not want anything that reinforces negative stereotypes – no snuff fiction, scat, golden showers, necrophilia or underage sex. Because of the potential copyright issues, they cannot accept fanfiction, either.

If you possess the copyright for your story and it isn’t currently under exclusive contract to anyone else, they are happy to consider stories which have been published before. (Please make a note in the covering e-mail.)

As long as your story follows these guidelines and comes within the word-count, please send it to

Your story does not need to have an explicit marriage-related plot or even a happy ending! Any story that celebrates the theme of love as valid, no matter the genders of the players, is welcome.

This is for a charity anthology, so you will not get paid. All profits will go straight to the Lamdba Legal fund. Through education, litigation and public policy work, Lambda Legal works to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, and persons with HIV. Since their founding in 1973, Lambda Legal has become an active and vital part of the GLBT civil rights movement instrumental in the fight for same-sex marriage rights both nationally and, most notably, in the fight to strike down California's Proposition 8.

Deadline for submissions is 1st December 2009.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Discrimination at the Lambda Awards

The Lambda Foundation has recently published an enhanced set of guidelines for the upcoming Lambda Literary Awards contest, where gay and lesbian themed published works are judged. These new guidelines have a number of gay, lesbian, and straight authors in a tizzy. The organizers are taking steps to exclude lgbt themed books written by straight writers. It seems that they want to keep the awards "in the family."

It is still not clear to me whether they are not accepting works from straight writers, or whether they are simply giving more weight to gay and lesbian writers. The wording is rather confusing. What's perfectly clear, however, is that the organizers are discriminating against a group of writers based on sexual orientation. You would think they would know better...

In my efforts to review lgbt literature for my column and this blog, I have read a number of gay books written by straight women, and admittedly, many of these writers didn't have a clue as to what gay men are about. Thus, their books were ordinary at best, and some I tossed after reading only a few dozen pages. On the other hand, a number of truly great gay stories were, and continue to be, written by straight women. If the Lambda committee snubs the works of these writers, then works such as The Persian Boy, The Front Runner, and Brokeback Mountain would be excluded.

I doubt that I will be eligible to enter this year's contest, since my novel that was due out now is behind schedule and without a publication date in sight. So if it doesn't materialize soon it will have to wait until next year's contest. That means this new ruling will not affect me. Still, I think it's a sad state of affairs to exclude writers who support the gay experience. Discrimination by any group is ugly.

The following is what my friend, Victor Banis, had to say on the subject:
My honest opinion? The Lambda Foundation is run by and for a bunch of old queens in NYC who'd like to keep it a private party. The same editors publishing the same books by the same writers for the same dwindling pool of readers and then handing out the same awards to one another over and over. And occasionally they get together to sip sherry and wring their hands and wonder why gay books don't sell. Can we say boring, ladies?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Productive Day

Got a lot of good work in today. Polished two chapters of my novel, Butterfly's Child. That puts me halfway through the edits, and I am on schedule to complete the project by the end of this month. I've been averaging 1 chapter per day. It's a lot of work, but it's coming along.

I also managed to post a book review to my LGBT Literary column: Property by Jordan Castillo Price. A gay crime drama. Check it out at:

Sad to say I quit reading a gay historical novel by a fairly respected author, I won't mention her name. I struggled through the first 100 pages, but I couldn't take any more. Melodramatic, head-hopping, too much telling, not enough action, simplistic plot and characters. All in all I found it very amateurish. I knew there was no way I could give this story a good review, so I tossed it and started a new novel, The Low Road by James Lear. It's gay erotica (and I'm not a fan of erotica) but the writing is a pleasure to read. It's done in first-person, so at least there won't be any head-hopping. Hopefully this will be a pleasant surprise.

I had hoped to spend time outlining my new screenplay today, but there was not enough time. That will be a priority tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Starting a new round of updates today

Last week was rather exciting for me, but the upshot is that I've got a lot more work to do over the next month or so.

On Saturday, Herman and I had dinner with a writer/director/producer who is reviewing my screenplay, Daddy's Money. Although he is not all the way through reading/commenting on the script, he seemed excited about what I've done. He told me the script is great as it stands if I'm only interested in appealing to a gay audience (which was my intent).

But he said for him to be interested in getting involved with this project, he would like to see it toned down a bit to appeal to a wider (straight crossover) audience. He told me that he's looking for a "breakout" gay movie that will appeal to everyone, similar to Brokeback Mountain, and he feels my script could be turned into such a movie with a bit more work.

So the upside is that he likes my screenplay. The downside is that I need to radically change the first act, which is essentially the first 10 scenes (30 pages). Okay, no problem. I'm willing to do that. He gave me enough direction that I've come up with a new beginning which I believe will give him what he's looking for.

I must admit, that as happy as I am to have this professional interested in my script, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. I'm also halfway through polishing my latest novel, Butterfly's Child, which should take another two weeks to complete.

I've also started the outline of my second screenplay, and I don't want to lose momentum on that. So I'm juggling three projects at once, while still trying to spend two to three hours per day promoting my book Island Song. When I retired from the corporate world ten years ago, I never thought I would ever be so busy, or work this hard again.

But then, life has a way of surprising us, no?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Took the day off.

Today was another day of non-writing. It was the final match of the 2009 US Open tennis championships in New York City -- the last grand slam of the year. It turned out to be Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin Del Poltro. Rodger was trying to make history with a 6th consecutive win at the US Open. Juan Martin, the clear underdog, was playing his first grand slam final.

Early on, it looked like Roger would roll over Delpo, taking the first set and being up a break in the second set. However, Delpo broke back and won the 2nd set in a tiebreaker. It was heaving hitting and fabulous shot making for five long sets, with Del Poltro winning in the end.

I was so happy to see a new face win a grand slam. In fact, both my pics for the singles won. Kim and Delpo. A great tournament as far as I'm concerned.

Okay, after two weeks of watching tennis, I'm ready to go back to writing. Lots of things happening on the writing front, which I will get into in detail as the week progresses.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writing Book Reviews

An interesting thread opened on one of my online writing groups this morning. People were giving their opinions and advice on how best to write book reviews when the book in question is either nothing special or a real stinker.

Everybody who writes reviews, myself included, loves to read a compelling book and then have the opportunity to tell others why we think it's a worthwhile read. But as often as not we are asked to review a book that is poorly written, boring, or simply rambles on with no clear direction. Many of the writers chiming in today said they have no issues with writing a scathing review. Some reviewers take the time to contact the author and let them decide whether they want a bad review or nothing at all. (Surprisingly, to me anyway, many writers prefer a bad review rather than no review.)

For me, it's a bit of a toss up. I will not write a review that completely dishes a book. If I found enough positives that I can give a balanced review, pointing out as many positives as negatives, then I will write the review, regardless of what the author wants. But if there were no positives, and I've read several books that fell into that category, then I will simply not write a review.

It's more of a personal thing. I don't like writing negative reviews. Also, I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a bad review, and I have no wish to cause a writer that anguish.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Writing Good Screenplays

I received an email from Gabi, in Korea, this morning. She had read my previous post about someone interested in my screenplay and wanted to know which books I used to help me learn how to write screenplays. I'd like to post my answer here in case anyone else is interested in starting down that path.

The two books I've read so far that made a difference is Save The Cat by Blake Snyder and Writing For Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias. And for purely editing rules, The Screenwriter's Bible is good.

Blake Snyder's book is focused on structure and plotting -- how to breakup down the flow and elements of a good story, and where in the story each element should occur. Karl Iglesias's book is wonderful at pointing out how to push the viewer's emotional buttons. He claims (and I agree) that people don't go to movies to be entertained, they go to have an emotional experience, and his book goes in depth about how to give them what they want.

But reading books are only part of the story. It takes reading scripts. There are a number of websites that allow people to download scripts of famous movies. A Google search on 'movie scripts' should show dozens. Some charge a small fee and some are free. But scripts are by far the best learning tools. I've read hundreds of them. The great thing about scripts is that they read fast. I can read one in a single day. They are normally 100 to 120 pages long (rule of thumb is one page for every minute of film) and it's mostly dialog, which reads fast.

The other huge thing that has helped me learn is my weekly screenwriter's group. Six screenwriters meet every Tuesday morning for 2 hours. We critique each other's work and help support each other in the difficult task of screenwriting. That has really been invaluable.

Writing scripts is not easily. A writer need to pack a lot of elements into 100 pages without every becoming boring. It takes work, but it's oh so satisfying when it all comes together.

Friday, September 4, 2009

How to sell a script with a little help from a friend and a lot of dumb luck...

I was so exited last night I could hardly sleep. I belong to a small group of talented screenwriters who meet once per week to give each other feedback on the scripts we are each working on. Recently I finished a script called Daddy’s Money, and one member of the group was kind enough to arrange a dinner meeting with James, a screenwriter/director in the international film scene. The idea was for us to simply meet, have a pleasant dinner, and then at some point a few weeks down the road, for me to pitch my screenplay to him in hopes that he would, for a cut, arrange a meeting with someone willing to produce the movie.

As it turned out, it was James’s birthday, so it turned into a celebration with plenty of champagne before, during, and after dinner. James and I hit it off immediately, and about thirty minutes into the celebration, we began to talk shop. James is on my screenwriting group’s email list so he occasional reads snippets of scripts as we pass them back and forth for review. So I was floored when James said, “Which one of the writers in your group wrote Daddy’s Money, it really terrific.” I was thrilled for two reasons, 1) that he liked it, and 2) because he brought up the subject so that we could talk business without it seeming like I was pitching to him.

We talked about the plot for several minutes and he seemed excited about it. Then I asked him for advice on where I should take it from here. He began by telling me I should raise several hundred thousand dollars, gather a cast, and direct the film myself. Then take it to all the GLBT film festivals. That of course, was exactly what I didn’t want to hear. When I made it clear I had no interest in making movies, only writing scripts, he suggested that he might be willing to take it on as a project and direct the film himself. He said he’d been looking for a script to like mine for a while.

At that moment my heart was beating so hard I thought it might jump out of my chest. I had visions of Alien. He asked if I had an updated script he could read. I, of course, had both the completed script and an outline in my car, which I promptly handed over. He said he would read it on Sunday and we would talk turkey later in the week. Then he invited me to his house next Saturday.

I’m still pinching myself to see if I’m dreaming. I’m trying to not get too excited, but being an eternal optimist, I can’t help myself.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chinese Funerals are Different

Yesterday I attended a traditional Chinese funeral for the first time. The woman was a distant relative of my husbands. At the church service, there was much bowing, burning of incense, and a very long-winded sermon done in both English and Cantonese. The preacher droned on in a monotone voice that threatened to put everyone asleep.

It turned out to be one of those rare, hot days in San Francisco, so it was doubly uncomfortable having to wear a suit and tie. It reminded me of working in the financial district, and make me appreciate the last ten years of retirement from the corporate world.

The line of cars stretched four city blocks as it weaved through Chinatown. Then two rather interesting things happened. The first, was that when we were led onto highway 280, the police escort blocked all onramps so that the funeral procession had the highway to themselves. I had no idea they could do that. It was such a bizarre feeling. I felt positively presidential. The second strange thing was that we were led through a neighborhood in the mission district, past the dead woman’s home. My husband explained it was tradition that the person make one last journey home before going to the gravesite.

At the gravesite, family members were given a flower, a stick of incense, and many had a plastic bag holding rice, coins, and what looked like a piece of candy. When they approached the grave, the stuck the incense in the ground, tossed the flower into the grave, and then mixed dirt with the rice-coin-candy concoction and tossed that into the grave as well. I asked several people what the rice-coin-candy concoction represented, but nobody knew. It was a tradition that everyone did, but they had forgotten what it symbolized. I found the very strange indeed.

We finished the day with a traditional Chinese banquet, but with a few slight differences. The first difference I recognized, was that at a normal banquet, ten people are seated at each round table. At a funeral banquet, there are only nine people per table, and there must also be an odd number of tables, even if no one sits at one table. The other difference was the type of dishes served. There were more vegetable dishes, less meat. I was told that is to please the Buddha.

All in all it was a rather long and tiring day, but one that ended in a celebration feast. Not such a bad way to go.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Time To Gather Family

Here in San Francisco, a very distant relative on my husbands side of the family died this week. It was not totally unexpected, since she was well into her nineties. I had shaken her delicate hand at a few family gatherings, but since I don't speak Cantonese, we couldn't really communicate beyond smiles and nods of heads. I knew very little of her, and I suspect she knew even less about my place in this family.

Last night we attended the wake, and this afternoon we will attend the funeral, first at the chapel in North Beach, then at the graveside.

Although the wake was a somber affair, there were a few wonderful things I took away from it -- the first being a strong sense of family. As I sat there with Herman's relatives gathered around, I felt honored to be part of this clan. Like most families, I suppose, they pull together in times of celebration and sorrow. They have their share of family squabbles, but they support each other, always. It took me several years to warm up to his family, but now I know that I've come to love them. And even though, as I say, she was a distant relative, there was a feeling that the family was greatly diminished, that she mattered and will be missed by all. I couldn't help wondering how much I matter, if I will be missed.

The second thing I took away from the wake was a sense of tradition, not my own, but of Chinese traditions passed down through centuries. From the lighting of incense sticks, to the repetitive bowing, to laying blankets on the body, to burning fake money, to passing out money and candy to everyone that must be used before you return home. They even placed a coin on the woman's lips, so she could pay the toll when she reached the gates of Heaven. I felt a sense of wonder at the ritual, which was both colorful and dignified. I appreciate these traditions, they being comfort and strengthen the sense of family.

I'm looking forward to the funeral today, if only to see what other rituals emerge. A story is forming in the back of my mind, centered around a Chinese funeral -- one that explores family dynamics and the passing of life. Could be a good one. Stay tuned...