Thursday, December 30, 2010

Closing the Book Cover on 2010

While thinking back over the year’s events, I am reminded of the give and take in the universe. The year for me seemed to oscillate between positive and negative poles, particularly in the United States, the place I call home. Being an election year in the states, much of the summer and fall was dominated by loud, often hateful rhetoric from politicians. The lies seem to pile on each other until everything collapsed under the growing weight of absurdity. It became evident that people were angry and searching for a ways to vent. That anger mutated into hate speech, and that fueled more anger. This was not one of this country’s finest moments.

Then the national spotlight seemed to swing to positive as Obama declared an end to the fighting in Iraq, and moved the war into a support operation with a definite timeline of withdrawal. This war has been a drain on the country’s morale and wallets for eight long years, and brought nothing but anger and death to show for it.

But the election anger continued to grow and, for me at least, continually dipped into great sadness when, one after another, innocent gay teenagers began to commit suicide. It felt like being hit in the gut with a sledgehammer, over and over. This tragedy became so overwhelming that even several bigots who had been preaching hatred from the pulpits, began to realize that their words were stirring up hate in the congregation, and that hate was slipping over into the schools and causing violence to innocent teens. It became obvious to me that these “men of the cloth” were indirectly guilty of manslaughter. And thank goodness for the Things Get Better campaign that swept the country, drowning out the voice of hate.

But as I say, things continued to swing to the opposite pole, and year’s end has seen the termination of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a seventeen-year piece of legislation that openly discriminated against gay men and women in the US armed services. In voting this down, America takes another step toward joining a host of other countries where “freedom for all” is more than merely a campaign slogan.

On a more personal level, my life has also swung between opposite polarities. This year was one of non-stop work for me. The workaholic in me surfaced and kept me glued to my computer for most of the year, to the detriment of my relationship with my husband, family and friends. It looked pretty glum for several months.

But then in the fall, I published two novels, Match Maker and Butterfly’s Child, which have been met with glowing reviews, and have two more ready for publication next year. This year’s drudgery has produced some of my best work, and the accolades are pouring in.

Some of those accolades came regarding my WWII historical novel, The Lonely War, which took top honors in this year’s Rainbow Awards, one of the chief literary contests for lgbt works. My novel won first place in four categories, including best overall fiction and best historical fiction.

To end on a positive note, I look forward to 2011. Not only do I have two novels ready for publication, my husband and I have started working on a screenplay together that has a DADT theme. This will be our first collaboration, and it already promises to be a bumpy road, as both of us have strong wills and definite ideas that don’t always mesh. If you don’t hear from me next year, it will be because Herman and I have killed each other over this movie script.

So with that, I wish you a fantastic Happy New Year, and may many blessing come your way throughout 2011!
Hugs and best wishes,
Alan Chin

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: The Geography of Murder by P. A . Brown

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by MLR Press
Pages: 273

Jason Aaron Zachary knew it was bound to be a bad day when he woke up next to a corpse who’d hours before had had his head bashed in. But things quickly grew worse as he was yanked to his feet and cuffed by a Santa Barbara Police detective named Alex Spider. A few hours later he was booked for murder one and sent to the county lockup to await arraignment.

Detective Alexander Spider, an openly gay police officer, had an immediate gut level attraction to Jason, but the kid was the kind of punk going down the toilet fast. Jason looked like he was into drugs, hustling , and about to be slapped with an open-and-shut case of murder one. But something didn’t smell right about the case. It seemed too easy, like someone had set the kid up to take a fall.

When things looked darkest, Jason couldn’t believe it when Spider paid him a visit in the county lockup, telling him there was new evidence that proved Jason’s innocence. Hours later, Jason found himself free from jail and riding home with this macho detective stud. Once at home, what Jason thought might lead to some hot sex did, but things got rough, and rougher, and rougher still, until it became clear that Spider intended to beat him into submission, and then own him, body and soul. Jason had leaped from one prison to another. But this new prison had its advantages…

This is not the first P.A. Brown novel I’ve read. So when I picked up this book, I expected a well-plotted murder mystery with the focus on sniffing out clues to solve a difficult murder or two. What I quickly realized was, although there is a murder case for Spider to solve, the guts of this story is a BDMS romance between Spider and Jason – one that takes them from being enemies on opposite sides of the law to painfully exploring the boundaries of a rather kinky relationship.

This story is unusual in that it is told in first person from two different protagonists. Each new chapter switches the narrator, first Jason then Spider, and so on. This POV swapping was slightly jarring at first, but it permitted the author to dive deeply into both characters’ persona, and allowed the reader to know them both intimately. My only issue about this POV switching was that both voices were similar. I felt that the author could have put more effort into making each voice more distinct.

This tale reads fast, and has the author’s usual spot-on attention to detail. The prose is raw, giving insight into the characters behind the words. Yet all too often the author used a word that was so inapt that I was jerked out of the story to ponder the choice of words. One example would be, “He jumped in the car. Cranked it on.” I couldn’t help wonder, how do you crank on a car that was built after 1915? But of course, that is only one of many examples.

The main issue I had with this story was purely a personal one. I didn’t like one of the main characters. I found Spider to be quite the hypocrite. One minute he was on a soapbox making speeches about pedophiles who can’t control their urges, and the next minute he had Jason chained to a wall and whipping him before having unprotected sex. It is difficult to be excited by a romance when you detest one of the players. But like I say, that was purely a personal issue. Most readers will not share my prejudices.

These two characters are drawn together, then struggle to overcome several obstacles. The author skillfully pulled me into their drama, and although there were relatively few sex scenes, they were hot. At times the sex went over the top for my old fashioned sensibilities, but never enough to keep me from flipping to the next page to see what happened next.

P.A. Brown is an exceptionally talented writer, and although I do not consider this story to be on the same level as her other novels, it is a well written, absorbing, and entertaining romance that I can recommend.

To read more about this book or P.A. Brown, go to

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Short Story Review: A Man of Principle by Victor J. Banis

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Amber Quill Press
Pages: 17

After a night at the opera, an elderly man decides to have a nightcap at a favorite watering hole to prolong the inevitable of going home to an empty apartment. But while enjoying the comforts of a twelve-year-old, single-malt scotch, he meets Neal MacIntyre, and they form a fragile bond.

Neal is nursing his well scotch, trying to make it last until closing time. He doesn’t have the money for another drink and he has no place to spend the night. Out of pure kindness and a desire for conversation, the elderly man offers him both – first a drink, then a couch to sleep on for the night. Neal happily accepts. But once the two are at the man’s apartment, Neal begins to tell what events brought him to that apartment. He tells a gripping tale of love and friendship, gain and loss, treachery and murder.

I’ve mentioned before that Victor J. Banis is one of my favorite authors, both for the vivid characters he creates and for his flawless prose, and in A Man of Principle, he does not disappoint. From the first paragraph I was drawn to this nameless elderly man, and could feel his loneliness and need. With a few well-chosen brushstrokes, the author paints a complete and compelling portrait of a man with not much to look forward to – someone who is waiting for something, and who perhaps spends his time savoring his past like his single malt.

With equal skill, he creates a younger man who is running from his past, a past that he can’t really run from. As the story unfolds, these two personalities bond in a unique way that is both touching and sad.

This story made me do something I seldom do: after reading the last word, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again – not for more clarity, but for the pleasure of a simple yarn told with skill and passion. Banis’s gift at crafting short stories is humbling. Take away one word and there is loss, take away any sentence and the beauty is diminished. This is not a story he whipped together in a day or two. It takes talent and patience to produce this kind of quality. This is a story I can highly recommend.

For more information about this story and author, go to

Holiday Message from Different Light Bookstore

Your New Year's resolution is to be more well-read in 2011? We got you covered. Our monthly BOOK CLUB meets at the Magnet Health Clinic (4122 18th Street) the last Tuesday of the month to discuss the latest, most buzzworthy titles popular in the LGBT community.

Our New Year's resolution here at A Different Light has always been to learn more from the men and women who came before us and paved the way to a more enlightened sensibility. With that thought in mind, we are happy to announce our first BOOK CLUB selection of the New Year: the National Book Award-winning JUST KIDS by Patti Smith.

Grab your copy at A Different Light, mention the Magnet Book Club and get 10% off! Then come discuss the book at Magnet Health Clinic (4122 18th Street) on January 25 at 7:30pm.

"Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe weren't always famous, but they always thought they would be. They found each other, adrift but determined, on the streets of New York City in the late '60s and made a pact to keep each other afloat until they found their voices--or the world was ready to hear them. Lovers first and then friends as Mapplethorpe discovered he was gay, they divided their dimes between art supplies and Coney Island hot dogs. Mapplethorpe was quicker to find his metier, with a Polaroid and then a Hasselblad, but Smith was the first to fame, transformed, to her friend's delight, from a poet into a rock star. Mapplethorpe soon became famous too--and notorious--before his death from AIDS in 1989.

Smith's memoir of their friendship is tender and artful, open-eyed but surprisingly decorous, with the oracular style familiar from her anthems, balanced by her powers of observation and memory for everyday details like the shabby, welcoming fellow bohemians of the Chelsea Hotel, among whose ranks these baby Rimbauds found their way." --Tom Nissley
For more info, contact:
Oscar Raymundo
Events Coordinator

A Different Light
489 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

(415) 431 0891

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: The Boy Behind the Gate by Larry Jacobson

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Buoy Press
Pages: 414

As a seven-year-old boy, Larry Jacobson often stood outside the gates of the marina near his home in Oakland, California, staring at the sleek sailing yachts nestled in their births, and dreamed of sailing the seven seas. His fantasy, even at that young age, was to circumnavigate the world. That aspiration remained dormant, wrapped in a cocoon for over forty years, waiting, waiting, but always pressing on his heart. The Boy Behind the Gate is the nonfiction account of the author fulfilling his life-long dream.

This is not simply a sailing story of shimmering white-sand beaches, tropical lagoons, and exotic ports of call. It is the hard and gritty sea tale of overcoming fears and insecurities, of dealing with the harsh and glorious displays of nature, of facing loneliness. This is a story of a gay man who risked everything for uncertainty and adventure, and in the process, reinvented himself. It is an account of personal strength and perseverance. Oh, and did I mention love? Yes, this is also a gay love story, not only of Jacobson’s love for the sea, but also his falling in love with Ken, his first mate.

On December 7th, 2001, Larry Jacobson walked away from a successful career and a long-time lover. He, his first mate, Ken, and a skeleton crew boarded a fifty-foot sailing yacht, Julia, stowed their provisions, made last minute preparations, waved good bye to friends and family, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, and pointed the bow south. They would not see that beautiful orange span again for another six years.

Jacobson had never captained an ocean going vessel before leaving the safety of the west coast of Mexico to cross the Pacific. He was not prepared for what lay ahead, but the unrelenting ocean served as teacher and guide, humbling his ego one minute, inspiring him the next.

Most of the entries of this book are presented as entries from the author’s personal journal and also emails written during the voyage. Don’t expect beautiful prose or lofty accounts of exotic cultures. These are gritty entries of a sailor and adventurer. The author’s mood comes through with each entry. The reader definitely gets his frustrations, fear, loneliness, his surprises and joys.

As a fellow world traveler (although I cross oceans from thirty thousand feet) I found this account fascinating. Jacobson describes many places I have visited, and his descriptions and insights are spot on. He managed to take me back to those destinations and let me relive my experiences there, from lagoons on Bora Bora, to the beauty of New Zealand, to diving the Great Barrier Reef, to the temples of Egypt, and the bustle of Istanbul. I thoroughly enjoyed his accounts of places I’ve been and others I hope for visit.

I only had one issue with this book. While Island hopping across the Pacific, the author seems to fall into a monotonous pattern of describing a fantastic island paradise, then a mechanical breakdown that impends the trip, then a horrendous storm that threatens their lives, then starts the pattern again with a tropical paradise. Not that it’s dull, but he does this multiple times, and, for me, it got too repetitious. And speaking of mechanical breakdowns. In the six-year voyage, everything that could possibly break did. I felt the author dwelled too much on his frustration of these incidents, and felt he could have cut half of them out and still made the point of how frustrating a journey like this can be.

The following is from a poem by the author taken from the book:
I have stood at the edge
Of the oceans.
I have stared in awe
At the power before me,
That pulled and tugged,
Until there was only the sea.
I left my life behind
To become a wanderer.
To explore, to live on the edge,
To search for something.
For that one thing that could satisfy
The urge that comes over me,
To keep moving, to wonder, to see.
I have circled the globe,
Sailed the seas,
Stared into death’s eye.

This tale is more than one man’s account of finding himself. This is a roadmap to finding one’s dream that anyone can follow, no matter what your particular desire is. It will also motivate readers to follow their own dreams at all costs. I can highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever imagined doing something great, something others fear, something that presses on their heart.

To lean more about the author and his book, go to

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cover Art for My New and Improved Novel, Island Song

My first novel, Island Song, was published two years ago by Zumaya Publications. My contract with Zumaya ends on Dec. 31st, and I have decide not to renew that contract. A few months back I approached Dreamspinner Press about publishing IS, and they agreed.

Today, I received several mockups of different ideas Dreamspinner has for a cover, and I was given my choice. I won't bother to show the rejects -- although they were all lovely -- because the one I picked was so much more elegant than all the others. I'm still not sure about a publication date, but when it comes out, the front cover will look like this:

As you can see from old cover on the right, this is a vast improvement over the first one. I hope people will agree that the writing and story are better as well.

Chasing Your Dream, Whatever It May Be

I want to tell people about a dear friend of mine whom I've known and played tennis with for the last sixteen years. About a dozen years ago, he began to move toward a religious calling. Being a flamboyant gay man and a man about town, many of us questioned where all this was coming from.

But it soon became part of Tony's nature to open gatherings with a heartfelt prayer, and throw several "amens" and "thank you, brother" into everyday conversations. Nobody, least of all me, minded, even though there was the occasional rolling of the eyes. We all figured he had fallen into the deep end and was slowly sinking, but he was sinking with a smile on his face so everyone I know supported him in it. Then a few years ago -- or was it only last year? I swear I'm getting too old to remember -- he let several of us tennis buddies know he had enrolled in a program to become a clergyman.

I was not overly surprised. I admired the fact that he was serious about chasing his dream.

Today I received the following message from him on FB:
Hi FB Family, I will be doing my first Sermon this Sunday December 26th, 2010 at "The Center for Spiritual Living - Fairfield/Suisun City, CA - 1200 Civic Center Drive. The Service starts at 10:30AM. I am very excited and if you are in the area please join me!

I'm not a church going man, however, I would dearly love to attend, simply to give support to this beautiful man who has spent a decade chasing a dream, and has now achieved it.

I believe -- no, I know -- it takes great courage to risk everything to follow the path in your heart. And it takes even more courage to follow that path over all the obstacles, letting nothing lead you astray.

So today I'd like to acknowledge one of the bravest people I know, Tony Bradford. Knock 'em dead, Tony, err... or what every you clergymen call it. My hat is off to you. Bravo!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 187

Darrel is living the dream life. He had always wanted to own his own restaurant, and that’s what he’s done. He is the main chef and owner of Café Belgie. He has his dream job, good income, stylish home. What could be better? Someone to share it with. Then Billy walks into his café asking for a job.

But of course, things are never that easy in love. Billy is penniless, a decade younger than Darrel, and he is the caretaker of his two younger brothers – five-year-old twins. But then, he’s also gorgeous and charming. This is a romance, so those obstacles to love don’t outweigh the positives, and Darrel jumps in with both feet. But as the story wears on, complications arise, and our hero must fight to hold his family together.

This is a simple, romantic, fast-paced story. It’s what I call a beach read – one where neither the characters nor the plot are too deep, so one can easily follow along without the need to concentrate. It is often funny, often heartwarming, and ends on an up-note. The characters are charming and at times overly sweet.

I came away with two trifling complaints. First, I felt the story, pretty much throughout, was in need of a stringent editor with a red pen to tighten the prose. Second, there are a number of sex scenes that I felt were overly long and uninteresting. I should point out that I seldom appreciate sex scenes cluttering up the pacing of a good story, so this is possibly a reflection of my own prejudice.

The last thing I’ll mention is not really a complaint, but I was slightly disappointed that there were no descriptions of Darrel cooking up fantastic dishes. I had falsely assumed going into this story that much of it would take place in a kitchen, and there would be mouthwatering narratives of preparing exotic foods. There were certainly opportunities to add something of that nature to spice up the story, yet there was almost nothing of the sort.

My slight criticisms did not detract from my enjoyment of this read. It is, in the end, an engaging romance that leads the reader through an array of emotions, and leaves them feeling good. I can recommend this story.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting Ready for the Holiday's

I spent a few minutes putting together an Alan Chin newsletter today, something I can email to my direct email list of a few hundred friends and fans.

As I began to list all the wonderful things that has happened to me over the last few months, I began to appreciate how far I’ve come in such a short time. After years and years of progress at a snail’s pace, my career seems to have kicked into a new gear. It left me feeling grateful. So I wanted to thank you readers who have shown me so much support this year. And there have been so many people who have. Wish I could personally thank you all individually.

Much of that good fortune has come because of my new publisher, Dreamspinner Press. Switching publishers has made all the difference in both the quality of my books and the number of book sales. I was a great move and I look forward to a lasting relationship with Dreamspinner. They are not only a professional bunch, they are a joy to work with.

Speaking of Dreamspinner, they are having a special promotion between Christmas and New Year’s. Each day from Dec. 26- Dec. 31, they will draw one name from the customers that purchased books during the month of December to win every eBook on their wish list. You can’t beat that with a stick – buy one and, if you win, you get every ebook on their list that you want! How can you lose?

Okay, enough of the sales pitch. It has been a fantastic six months and I’m looking forward to a warm and happy holiday season. Hope your holidays are looking as good as mine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: The International Homosexual Conspiracy by Larry-Bob Roberts

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Manic D Press
Pages: 158

The International Homosexual Conspiracy is non-fiction. The author presents a series of cultural polemics on an array of contemporary topics that pokes fun of the gay lifestyle and the absurd homophobic idea that gay’s recruit young people into our community – from gay community, to writing, to popular culture, and mostly on homosexuality in general.

In this collection of short essays, Larry-Bob Roberts offers funny, thought-provoking insights into the absurdities of modern queer culture. The writing is tight and fast paced.

For me, this book was akin to reading someone’s blog entries over the last year. Some topics are purely fun to read, others witty, some made me consider my own behavior. There was nothing earth shattering in these pages, nothing that changed my opinions or behavior concerning life, gay or otherwise.

I found these bite-sized discourses, like I find many blog entries of favorite writers, interesting and engaging. Fans of satire will enjoy this book, and will no doubt fined ample opportunities to laugh, at themselves and everyone else. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Writing Tip #26 - To Believe or Not To Believe

I read an interesting thread the other day on an online writers group I belong to. An author was complaining bitterly that a review she received from an online review blog was flawed because the reviewer admitted that he/she didn’t really like that genre, and couldn’t get into the story. The thing that I found most interesting was that the author chastised the reviewer for not being able to “suspend belief” and get into her story, placing all the blame on the reviewer.

I’ve heard a lot over the years about the reader needing to “suspend belief” in order to enjoy a story, and I must say that I think it is pure bullshit. It’s as if the author expects the reader to flush all his/her experience and knowledge, to be able to enjoy the tale being presented.

I feel that it is not the suspension of belief that needs to happen, but rather, the author needs to make the reader believe. It is the writer’s job to skillfully pull the reader into the story, by making the reader believe what is presented is real. The writer must make it so convincing, that the reader has no choice but to go along.

Admittedly, no writer likes even a mediocre review, let alone a bad one. And of course, there are hordes of reviewers posting reviews who don’t have a clue about what makes a good read. But blaming the reviewer is the tool of an amateur writer.

If an author receives a negative review, it is up to the writer to evaluate the comments and determine what could make the story better, thus turning it into a learning experience. In my humble opinion, a writer should always be looking for any feedback in order to hone his/her craft.

That said, I recently finished reading/reviewing a novel for a fellow writer at Dreamspinner Press. The story was somewhat interesting, but all the way through I kept seeing numerous issues that novice writers make, convincing me this was his debut story. I kept thinking, this is not a bad story for a first-time author. But as I finished the story, I read the author bio, and realized this author had written at least twelve other books! It became clear to me that this author is either a slow learner or he has never bothered to try to improve his craft.

I believe each writer should spend as much time learning their craft as they do writing. How else can we become accomplished writers? And getting back to negative reviews, they are feedback on what didn’t work for that particular reviewer. That should be a clear signal as what areas the writer can concentrate on improving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Lonely War sweeps the Rainbow Awards

I woke up to some wonderful news in my inbox today. There are two main LGBT literary contests each year -- Lambda Literary and the Rainbow Awards.

The winners for the Rainbow Awards were announce today and the news was great. My novel, The Lonely War, swept the Rainbow Awards, taking 1st place in four categories:
Best Overall Gay Fiction,
Best Historical Fiction,
Best Characters,
Best Setting.

This is what some of the judges had to say about The Lonely War:

This is a very demanding but oh-so-rewarding book. While I don't know if I
would read it again--at 303 pages which included some rough passages I'd rather not experience again--I can honestly say that this is a book that deserves to be read by fans of m/m who want a more realistic angle OR maybe something that is slightly off-center. It's a brilliant novel. One I'm happy I got the chance to immerse myself in. --Luce

This, I have to say, was the Jewel in the Crown of my Rainbow Award books. It was an EXCELLENT read. It kept me rapt and I can honestly say, that I never, ever, not once, knew what would happen next - but when whatever it was unfolded, I believed it. This, for me, represents very good quality writing. It is not predictable, it is realistic, emotionally engaging, engrossing and very well written. A truly worthy contender for the top spot in this category in my opinion. --Rosie

Needless to say, I'm quite thrilled. Whether or not this will translate into more sales, I have no idea. I’m simply grateful that these judges saw quality in my writing, and in a story I feel deeply about.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: Strings Attached by Nick Nolan

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Amazon Encore
Pages: 327

When his mother is sent to rehab for alcohol addiction, closeted teenager Jeremy Tyler is sent to live with his dead father’s relatives. In a matter of a few days, he goes from poverty in Bakersfield to the posh world of Ballena Beach. While struggling to fit in, Jeremy joins the high school swim team, dates a popular girl, and begins to think he’s landed in paradise – until is great aunt Katharine begins to make demands, playing him like a puppet. Then a mysterious phone caller insinuates that his father’s accidental death was no accident.

As Jeremy grows accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous, so grows his curiosity about his father’s death. What he doesn’t realize is that the closer he comes to the truth, the deeper in danger he falls. He must race to unravel the clues before he meets his father’s gruesome fate.

This is an enchanting story. It moves well even though I felt the author went into much more detail than the story needed. It weaves a murder mystery, sexual ambiguity, and characters with hidden identities and agendas into an entertaining tale.

I feel that the closer the reader is to the late-teen/early-twenty target audience, the more enjoyment they will find in these pages. Not simply because this is a coming-of-age tale, but also because that age group won’t mind the thin characterization of the cliché characters. However, there are a few sexual scenes that take it out of the realm of the typical YA novel, which I felt was a mistake on the author’s part. Better to have toned down those scenes for a younger audience, in my opinion, because neither the writing nor the plot is strong enough for a more sophisticated audience.

What made this story for me was the character of Jeremy. Thin, yes. Cliché, yes again. But his youthful confusion, mistakes, yearning and wise cracks are charming and delightful, and carry the read through any shortfalls of the storyline.

I don’t feel that the author’s attempt to emulate the Pinocchio theme is well integrated, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. This is a gay boy’s coming of age yarn, with a somewhat darker tones that I’m used to seeing, but even with these opaque shades, the author keeps the tone light and moving, which makes for an enjoyable read.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The King's Birthday

Hi everyone,
Herman and I are currently in Chang Mai, Thailand. The whole country just celebrated the King's birthday. Lots of fireworks and celebrating. We had a wonderful seafood dinner with friends, and then hooked up with other friends for a nightcap. After all, it's not every day we get to celebrate a King. He has been in the hospital for over a year, and although he slurred his speech, he looks much healthier than he did last year.

It is charming to be in a country where 99.99 percent of the country adores the leader. Such a fresh contrast to the States where the general population wants to line up everybody within a hundred miles of Washington D.C. against a wall and mow them down with machine guns.

I love it here. The attitudes are so different than at home.

But that aside, I'm here to write, and that starts tomorrow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bufferfly's Child is Released at Dreamspinner Press

I’m excited to announce that my new novel, Butterfly’s Child, went on sale today at Dreamspinner Press. Sometime in the next week it will show up on Amazon, B&N, and other online sites that sell fine books.

I’ve included a story description and the first two chapters below. You can purchase the book on Dreamspinner Press site.

The first twenty books bought on the Dreamspinner site will be signed copies.

While back in the West to attend his grandmother’s funeral, Cord Bridger uncovers two shocking revelations: his grandmother had a lesbian lover named Juanita, and he has a teenaged son named Kalin. Fate brings all three together, but to preserve his new family, Cord must leave his safe life in New York City behind to carve a living from the harsh ranch lands of Nevada.

To forge a life with Juanita and Kalin, Cord must first discover the dark secret burning a hole in Kalin’s heart. With the help of Tomeo, a handsome Japanese veterinarian, Cord travels a gut-wrenching road of triumphs and tragedies to insure his son will survive the sinister violence of his past. But as Tomeo becomes more than just a helpful friend to Cord, a new set of problems arise between Cord and Kalin that may threaten the happiness of them all.

Chapter One

The musicians tuned their instruments for a Thursday night performance. A mishmash of sounds ascended from the pit, underscoring the audience’s expectant banter.

Cord Bridger settled into his usual seat, a mahogany desk and chair known as a libretto table. There were only six in the Metropolitan Opera House. They had no view of the stage, but rather crouched along the balcony walls, three to the stage’s right and three to the left. Each desk supported a low-watt lamp so the patron could read the opera’s score as the performance played out.

Cord wore his usual evening attire: black Brioni suit, black silk shirt, black tie, and his short black hair stuck out at rakish angles. Only his pale face, thin fingers, and fatally blue eyes stood out in the shadows.

He spread Madame Butterfly’s score before him, studied the tiny ink strokes that formed the musical phrases. The air felt cool, but both his hands and upper lip were damp with perspiration. Butterfly was the only opera he had never sat completely through, though he thought the music sublime. The storyline drove him away every time. Butterfly’s heartbreak and eventual suicide always proved too painful.

Sounds washed over him—musicians tuning instruments, footsteps along the aisles, groaning seats, excited whispers. He focused on the musicians, discerning each instrument, verifying whether it was tuned or needed further adjustment.
A click of the lamp at the table behind him turned his head. A familiar face smiled, another aficionado he’d noticed before but had never spoken to. She wore an industrial-gray pantsuit with a white pigeon-breasted shirtfront. Two chopsticks held her ginger-colored hair in a bun on the back of her head.

He nodded.

Turning back to his score, he heard approaching footsteps and felt a pressure on his shoulder. The Metropolitan Opera’s art director, Tom Phillips, stood beside him like a pallbearer in his gray suit, crisp moustache, and large eyes seen predominantly on nocturnal animals.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bridger. They told me you were in the house. I wanted to inform you that Logan Evans will not perform tonight, head cold I’m afraid. Mr. Brooks will sing the tenor role. I thought you should know in case you would prefer to attend next week’s performance.”

Cord always felt annoyed when people called him “Mr. Bridger.” His thirty-fourth birthday had recently past, but he felt younger, still a colt and not quite deserving the mature title of Mister. He swallowed his irritation, then considered leaving. After the first act, the tenor was superfluous. He had come to hear Ruth Ann Swensen sing the title role. Cord thanked the art director for his thoughtfulness and told him that he would stay.

Ten minutes passed before Mr. Phillips walked on stage and made a similar announcement to the entire house. A rumble of disappointment rolled over the audience, followed by clapping as a rotund man in white tie and tails stepped onto the conductor’s platform. The applause diminished until a hush held the audience still, with only sporadic coughs to punctuate the silence.

The lights dimmed. The musicians prepared. Then immaculate sound rifled through Cord, vibrating every cell with delicious harmony.

Madame Butterfly is a journey bridging extremes, from a bride’s wedding-day bliss to her suicide. Knowing this, Cord focused on the music and tried to ignore the unfolding story. But as the tenor began to sing, bitterness choked Cord’s heart.
The tenor had a passable voice, albeit a small instrument for this opera house. But the character he played, Lieutenant Pinkerton, disgusted Cord. Pinkerton marries Butterfly without loving her, leaves her without a thought, and becomes a blubbering coward when he returns years later to find she has given birth to his son. His pusillanimous actions drive Butterfly to suicide.

Cord could not see the character strutting about the stage, but Pinkerton’s voice broadcasted a vast arrogance. The music was exquisite, yet Cord grew impatient for Pinkerton to exit and the first act to end. He sat with his shoulders hunched, watching the notes on the page dance by. The brass blared, violins sang, the wedding turned triumphant.

Cord trembled as Butterfly sang out her prayer for happiness. His eyes watered, blurring the notes on the page. Apprehension seized him until the curtain fell on Act One and the applause diminished.

The woman behind him rose to join the others during intermission.

Cord drew a white handkerchief across his forehead as the audience disappeared into the corridor. Irritation swelled his heart, knowing Butterfly’s child would make his appearance at the end of Act Two.

As the second act unfolded, his anger grew intense. He listened with a mixture of rapture and rage, hearing the desperation in Butterfly’s voice yet knowing what lay ahead. He could not see the child take the stage, thankfully, but the ache he carried in his heart spread upward to stiffen his shoulders and neck, then solidified down his spine. Everything in him congealed—guts, glands, blood vessels, organs, bones. He laid a hand on his heart, but it failed to soothe.

In his mind’s eye, Cord saw the child, and he yearned to sweep the boy into his arms, whisk him away, and comfort him. In the midst of his petrification, his loathing of Pinkerton swelled until it threatened to overwhelm him.

In the third act, Pinkerton’s spineless crooning enraged him. He became aware of his weakness, realizing he had failed again. He thought he had buried these feelings long ago, but he sat as rigid and emotional as ever, caught in a whirlwind of memories.
By the time Butterfly took the stage for her death scene, Cord could barely breathe. It felt as though he sucked air through a straw, which couldn’t begin to fill his hardening lungs. He closed his score and stood. He felt the ginger-haired lady scrutinizing him as he tucked his score under his arm, and he raised his head until their eyes met.

“Can’t imagine how you can leave before the finale.”

He felt himself blush; his eyes lowered. “I have an overpowering phobia of stabbings—especially the self-inflicted kind.”
He shuffled to an exit door and slipped into the brightly lit corridor.

Butterfly’s outcry followed him down the stairs. He couldn’t keep himself from imagining the stage. She sat on a yellow cushion beside a low table. Her posture reflected elegance, her face displayed consummate dignity. Folded around her body was the most brilliant long-sleeve kimono possible. Embroidered onto the gold-colored fabric was an exquisite maroon phoenix.

Light radiated off the golden material. She shimmered, dreamlike, as if his imagination had painted a silkscreen masterpiece to represent the tragic soul of all discarded lovers.

She turned her head, studied him for a half-second, and bowed. Lifting her head, their eyes met. Deep within her gaze, her suffering revealed itself. Those shattered eyes drew Cord into his own grief. Crushed, he wanted to flee from this woman who shrouded herself in heartache, but running away was futile—she lived in his mind.

The blade reflected the spotlight as she lifted it to shoulder height. Her sleeve swayed beautifully as her arm arched toward her body. A plum-colored stain spread across her kimono, blurring the phoenix. The agony in her face softened.

As Cord retrieved his overcoat, the hatcheck woman shot him a queer look. Only then did he notice the tears streaming down his cheeks. He darted between the Chagall unicorns and out the doors into Lincoln Center Plaza.

Overcast blanketed the city, and the temperature had dropped into single digits. The air smelled of snow as it bit into his lungs.

A handful of people meandered through the plaza—a lesbian couple strolled with their arms entwined, two children pulled at the sleeves of an old man while begging him to hurry, and a dozen Asian tourists took pictures by the fountain. All the Asians wore dark, muted clothing except one lady dressed in a white fake-fur coat and holding a crimson umbrella.

He felt his tears freeze on his cheeks. His teeth chattered. As he rushed by the umbrella lady, a camera flash momentarily blinded him. He stumbled toward Times Square, seeing nothing but maroon wings stretched on a golden fabric.

Chapter Two
The day began with the buzz of a cell phone ripping at the membrane of Cord’s sleep. The alarm clock’s diodes blinked: 4:23 a.m. He grabbed the phone and heard his father’s smoky voice, smudged with whiskey, announce that Cord’s grandmother had passed on to glory.

“Cause unknown. Old age combined with meanness, no doubt,” the old man slurred. “Funeral’s on Saturday; take the redeye and someone will meet you. She bequeathed everything to you, and you’re welcome to it. I want no part of it, ever.”

Confused, Cord lifted himself onto one elbow, trying to form thoughts. A moment later it sank in. What did the old man expect, for chrissakes. He abandoned his family, abandoned her, and now he’s facing the music. Cord wanted to hiss that message in the old man’s ear, but he hadn’t spoken a word to his father for as long as he could remember, and he would not start now.

A pause stretched into a harsh silence, and then the phone went dead.

Cord glanced across the bed and realized he was alone. His head dropped into the folds of his pillow while a mysterious bond with his newly dead grandmother gripped his chest. He assumed she’d died without anyone at hand to comfort her. Visions he’d imagined earlier invaded his head—a golden-clad Butterfly holding the blade, crushed and alone, having lost love, dignity, and her child. A shiver ran through his core like a mountain stream tumbling down his spine.

He contemplated the fact of never seeing her again, and though he hadn’t spoken to her in more than twelve years, much less given her much thought, his pain grew sharp. Confused emotions surged from his breast. He couldn’t fathom how he had allowed so much time to pass without contacting her. He blamed the fact that she didn’t own a phone, that to communicate with her meant going there in person, and once he had left the ranch he couldn’t muster the courage to return.

His thoughts churned to avoid the empty side of the bed. A saying his grandmother was fond of came to him—whenever God closes a door, he opens a window. But the thought brought no comfort. A heartbeat later, the superstition his grandmother often voiced—death always happens in threes—floated across his consciousness. He played one belief against the other. The first held the promise of happiness while the other guaranteed more pain, two ideas juxtaposed. He tried to determine which held truth, and then he remembered he didn’t believe in God.

He pieced together his boyhood, remembering her hard, jubilant manner and the joy of working beside her to care for the livestock. Caught in the past, her sonorous voice called to him through a decade of emptiness.

It occurred to him he had lost more than the woman who raised him after his mother died. While working on her ranch—before attending Juilliard and settling in New York City—she had become the sole person he had trusted, the one with whom he could let down all masks, all pretenses, and be himself. She had loved him like that, vulnerable, and he had returned her unwavering acceptance. Only her. Not even the fruit of her loins, his father, did he trust or love, and his own mother died before he turned four. With his grandmother’s death came the loss of righteousness, innocence, and to Cord Bridger, it felt like being chased out of Eden, if there ever was such a place.

He rose from the bed, stepped to the window, and pulled the curtains open. His gaze rested upon the Chrysler Building’s illuminated coronets.

At that darkest hour of the night—though his twenty-eighth floor apartment was not high enough to escape the street glow—he stared at the skyline, feeling a frightening meaninglessness to his reality. This existence of sharing a few square miles with eight million people, the absurdity of being alone within this mass of humanity, pricked his skin like scores of needles. He tried to cry out, but he could not utter a sound or take a breath. His anxiety passed and he could breathe again, but the fear of being irrelevant lingered. With more reflection, he found comfort with the notion that he was not alone—everyone in the city before him was equally insignificant.

He stood at the window until the sky began to pale. When sadness turned to numbness, he closed the curtains and climbed into bed. He drew the sheets around him, cocoon-like, and stared past the alarm clock to the cloaked window.
Thirty minutes later he heard two clicks from across the apartment—a key slipping into the lock and the sliding deadbolt.
Cord’s ears followed the progress of the front door being opened and closed, tiptoeing along the hallway, the sounds of clothes being discarded, the bedroom door opening and closing. He felt Cameron’s body tilting the bed and heard the static sound of sheets sliding over bare skin.

Cord lifted one eyelid to check the clock, noting the alarm would sound in forty minutes.

Cameron’s snoring followed Cord through the living room. Cord wore the gray Calvin Klein T-shirt and briefs he slept in.
The living room held Japanese furniture and colorful Chinese silk rugs. Cord’s ebony grand piano stood at the near wall, and Cameron’s home entertainment system cluttered the far corner. The centerpiece of Cameron’s system was a fifty-two-inch flat-screen television. Every room in the apartment had a wall-mounted TV, but none as imposing as the living room system. The west wall sported a fireplace that had never known fire, and over the mantel hung Cord’s only Rothko.

Cord never glanced at the Rothko without feeling grateful that Cameron’s parents gave their son an apartment in Central Park West, which allowed Cord the opportunity to spend his own salary on art rather than rent.

He sauntered to the kitchen, which had the same Zen-like bareness as the living room. The only food prepared there was morning coffee. The refrigerator’s sole purpose was to chill drinks. Meals were either eaten out or ordered in—usually something eaten with chopsticks because the apartment was devoid of knives.

Cord made a pot of coffee, then sat at the table sipping from a carrot-colored mug. He gazed over the rim, across the living room to the Rothko hanging above the mantel. He loved that painting for its size and blend of colors (blood red and mustard yellow blocks framed in charcoal gray), and because he could lose himself in its complex simplicity. It was not an image of any worldly thing, and like all Rothko paintings it had no title, which allowed it to become something different each time he gazed at it.

Right then, mug held to his lips, his attention focused on the lower corner where red blended with charcoal, and what he saw was Cameron sneaking through the apartment like a thief.

How could things have come to this?

He admitted their relationship had become a mystery. Fresh out of college, Cameron had made a name for himself as a reporter covering the city beat on CBS’s Good Morning Show. His fashion-model looks and designer-label clothing had made him one of New York’s beautiful people who frequented trendy eateries and spent nights clubbing. Cameron had scores of acquaintances in the broadcasting business, which provided endless party opportunities. And to make it in the television industry, Cord knew, you had to be seen.

Cord held no interest in running with that herd. At thirty-four, he had never looked better, but he was not one of the beautiful people. His looks blended into oblivion in any stylish crowd, which brought a small comfort at this stage in his life. He had a fawn-like face, short black hair, blue eyes, and over the last five years his lanky body had filled out and rounded enough to make him appear more mannish than boyish. When he’d first moved here, Cameron had made him over—wardrobe, haircut, accessories. Cord smiled to himself, thinking that accessories were what they used to load onto a Ford Taurus to make it seem like a Mercedes. No, underneath he was not of that breed.

The bedroom’s television announced that Cameron was awake. Cord thought about how Cameron’s life revolved around the tube more than the Internet. He had grown up in front of one, eating TV dinners and singing along with theme songs. The tube had been his babysitter, his teacher, his best friend. Now it made him a celebrity. But Cameron was more than hair mousse and designer labels. He had grown into a savvy TV personality on the rise. He was also a passionate lover. He’s perfect. Like this immaculate apartment, nothing I could add, change, or delete would be an improvement.

Still, lately, Cord spent so much time alone it felt as if he were single. Even when Cameron sat in the same room, he felt like some kind of hologram Cord could make love to but not touch. Cord wondered whether this was a new development, or had their relationship always been this way and he only now noticed?

Cord had waited years for him and Cameron to recapture that glow of affection—he felt reluctant to call it love—they’d felt for each other those first few months. Hell, Cord would settle for any point in their relationship when they’d still held each other and talked about unimportant things. Yes, he thought, feeling somewhat relieved, it wasn’t always like this.
Cameron stood at the doorway in his boxers. His honey-colored hair stuck out at stylish angles. Cord was astonished by Cameron’s beauty. After four years, he still had that effect on Cord, like gazing at the Rothko and seeing something he’d never seen before, yet as breathtaking as all the other times.

Cameron switched on the television and brushed past Cord on his way to get coffee. Cord reached up to touch his lover, but his outstretched hands only felt cool air moving in Cameron’s wake. Cord smiled down his disappointment. For a brief moment, he thought they might hug and kiss.

“Why didn’t you wake me? I’ll be late for work.”

Cord stared out the window. “You’re the one who stayed out all night.”

Cameron dismissed the comment with a toss of his head and focused on a CNN article about starving Somali refugees. It showed naked children with gaunt faces, watery eyes, and swollen bellies.

“What a shame,” Cameron muttered. “That stuff kills me. Can you make a note to send the World Hunger Project a hundred dollars? Thanks, honey.”

Cord feigned exasperation, though he didn’t mind doing it at all.

Cameron grabbed the remote and switched to CNBC.

“Shit. Oil’s over a hundred and forty a barrel,” Cameron said. “We should have bought some Exxon or BP.”

“I have some bad news. My grandmother died. The funeral’s Saturday, so I won’t be here for the weekend. I’ll book a seat on tonight’s redeye to Nevada. She left the Bitter Water to me.”

“Bitter Water?”

“Her ranch. I’ll have to settle the estate. That will take months, of course, but I’ll need to find an attorney and get the ball rolling. That will take a week or two, I would think.”

“Honey, I’m so sorry.” He reached over and ran his fingers through Cord’s spiky hair. “You must feel awful. But why do you need to attend the service? Saturday’s our anniversary party; everything is set.”

“I can’t miss her funeral.”

Cameron’s chin lifted absurdly high. “I understand. I do. She was important to you, but you promised to perform. I’ve already told everyone.”

“Cam, I said I’d think about it.”

“It’s the same thing. What will our friends think if you back out now?”

Cord glanced into the living room at his other lover, the Steinway, its lid propped open and its ivories burnished and expectant. He suspected Cameron’s motivation for wanting him to play grew from shame. Cameron was embarrassed that Cord, with all his schooling and talent and promise, earned his living as a glorified piano tuner because he couldn’t cut it on the concert tour.
“Your friends are expecting a performance I never agreed to. Besides, paying my respects to family trumps entertaining friends. Our real friends will understand.”

“Put her on ice for forty-eight hours and fly out on Sunday. She won’t give a shit, and who cares what those yokels think? Didn’t you tell me she lives in some dump that doesn’t have electricity? You want to play Daniel Boone for two weeks?”
“It’s not a dump; it’s rustic. She left it to me. I have to do something with it. Besides, here or there, I have no intention of playing on Saturday. I quit performing, remember?”

“Honey, you’re the most gifted musician in New York. People would pay hundreds to hear you play. If you decide to record something, people will listen to you for the next century. You’re that good. But it’s worthless if you keep it to yourself. I mean, what good is it if you don’t share it?”

Mere flattery to get what he wants? No, Cord knew his lover believed it. Who knew whether it was true or not, but it comforted him to know Cameron still felt that way.

“Honey, I wish I could do this for you, but I can’t. So can we drop it?”

“Have it your way, Mr. Boone. You always do. You’re never there for me. It’s like being married to an apparition. I need you to take an active role in my life, but you lock yourself in this apartment and your damned sound studio and hide from everyone. I need more.”

“Thanks for your support in my hour of loss, sweetheart. I love you too.”

Cameron winced as Cord’s barb hit its mark.

Cord felt sorry. He didn’t consider himself a cruel person—most of the wounds he inflicted were unintentional—unless weakness was another form of cruelty.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review: West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I love to read. I spend more time reading than writing. I read good books and I read moderately good books. Books that don’t grab me in the first thirty pages goes into the trash before I reach page thirty-one. Every once in a while, a really great book comes along, and I have a love affair with it. I assume that most readers are like me in his regard.

A couple of weeks ago, I began reading West with the Night by Beryl Markham. It is autobiographical. Beryl was the first woman commercial pilot in Africa, back in the 1930s and ‘40s. She describes her childhood growing up on a farm in Africa, and also about learning to fly and becoming a successful commercial aviator. Towards the end of the book, she describes her history-making flight over the Atlantic, flying from Ireland to Canada.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. Her prose is awe-inspiring. I found myself rereading paragraphs, even whole pages two and three times because of the fastidious beauty of the prose. It's why it took me so long to read it. I didn't want to rush through. I wanted to savor it, to wallow in her lovely phrases and thoughtful insights.

But of course, it is more than lovely-formed sentences on the page. The author knows too well how to draw the reader into a scene, build the suspense, and throw in some well-timed humor. These stories are fascinating, and inspiring. Imagine a young girl growing up in the company of natives, hunting wild game with a spear. Picture this same girl as a teenager learning to train race horses, and becoming a top-notch trainer. Envision her abandoning her career with horses for an overwhelming love of flying.

This author is not only an exceptionally gifted writer, she is a woman who has lived an enthralling life. And the gift that she brings to the page is the ability to pull the reader into the scene. I felt the wind on my face, smelled the campfire smoke, heard elephants trumpeting in the distance.

Yes, this is a book I love, and I will return to it over and over again. I can highly recommend that you do the same.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Counting Blessings

I suppose that every morning, one should wake and count his or her blessings even before brushing their teeth. But on this day, is seems appropriate to spend an extra few minutes reminding ourselves of what we are thankful for. For even in the midst of tragedy, there are blessings to be acknowledged.

Topping my list today is my husband, Herman. He is my north, my south, my East and west. He is the compass that keeps me on a true course through this muddled life. He lets me fly, while keeping my feet on the ground and moving down our path. The love he generates in my heart shines on every other aspect of my life. He is my greatest blessing.

Coming in a close second is my good health. Like most people, I often take it for granted until something, even as simple as a cold, threatens it. Next to love, it is our most cherished gift.

I’m guessing family comes next. Today, Herman and I are hosting a gathering of both our families, all thirty-six of them. They will be bringing great food, laughter, drama, love, and hopes for the future, all to our house to share their blessings with us. What better way to spend a day of thankfulness. I have grown to love my husband’s family as my own. They are supportive and loving. Good, solid people trying to make a difference in this life.

I would lastly like to thank you, and all the people who read my blog, my books, my FB, and support me down this career path. Without the support you bring, I would have given up years ago. I am truly grateful to you.

Life is great. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing Tip #25: Levels of Conflict

I’ve read several stories lately where the author manages to create interesting characters and also string countless pretty sentences together. But they don’t seem to get the notion that nothing in a story moves forward except through conflict.

A simple definition of conflict is: two dogs, one bone. Conflict is key, in every scene. If you write a scene that doesn’t have conflict, trash it, because it doesn’t advance the story, or at least not enough to make the reader wade through it.

Little or no conflict means little or no movement, which means little or no interest. In a word: BORING.

A story is a metaphor for life, and to be alive, as the Buddha once stated, is to be in a perpetual state of conflict. Everyone is lacking something they want, and when they get it they soon want something else. Hence, every character in a story desperately wants something, and the story is what they do in attempting to achieve their desires.

But it is not enough to just throw your protagonist into a pit of snakes as a way to add conflict to a story, or have the love of his life die. The best stories are complex stories, and what I mean by that is, they have conflict happening on three different levels at once. The three levels are:

1. Inner conflict
2. Personal conflict
3. Extra-personal conflict.

If a story only has conflict of the inner kind it is basically an exercise in stream of consciousness. The basic movement of the story all happens in the character’s head. This is very difficult to pull off, and can get rather tedious after the initial rush wears off.

If a story has all its conflict in the personal category, it is a soap opera or porn, where every character has a relationship with every other character. It’s all about who is sleeping with who. This is a mark of an immature writer.

A story that has only extra-personal conflict is basically an action/adventure or horror story. James Bond is a perfect example. He has no inner conflicts, nor does the viewer mistake 007’s encounters with women as personal. For him they are sport.

It is only when a writer weaves conflict into all these levels that a story becomes truly complex and, in my opinion, interesting.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Meaning and the Creative Process

I’m a writer. I write novels and screenplays, and what I’ve learned over the last dozen years is every good story has a single controlling idea. All coherent tales express meaning veiled inside an emotional structure we call plot. A story should convey meaning. After all, what is entertainment? It’s the ritual of reading or watching a movie, investing tremendous concentration into what one hopes will be a satisfying, meaningful emotional experience. Anything else is just porn.

Plato once urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers. He considered them a threat to society because writers conceal meaning inside the seductive emotions of art, rather than presenting them in the rational manner of philosophers. Plato insisted that storytellers were dangerous people. He was right.

The same is true today. Every effective story sends a charged idea to our brains. Yet the idea is often not at all obvious. In fact, many writers, myself included, end up writing a great deal of a story before it dawns on them what that controlling idea is.

It is often when a writer fashions the final climax that the story speaks its meaning. It is one of the most powerful moments in writing, when the writer recognizes him/herself in the story. The climax mirrors the writer’s inner self, and if the story has bloomed from the deepest sources within the writer, s/he will, more often than not, be surprised by what the story reflects.

A writer may think s/he is a warm and cuddly human being, until they write a tale of dark, cynical consequence. But if the author is letting his/her imagination drive the writing process, then what is hidden deep within will find its way onto the page. The writer will express truth, at least truth as they see the world.

So does a writer have a social responsibility to cure social ills or renew faith in humanity? I’m not sure that’s possible. A story tells the writer its meaning during the writing process; the writer doesn’t dictate meaning into the story.

I believe that the only responsibility the writer has is to tell the truth as they see it. So when you finish a story, s/he must ask themselves, what is the main idea expressed within the climax, and then ask if that idea is true.

A great story doesn’t give profound answers to difficult questions. It is a living metaphor that says, “This is life.” Stories, the classics, down through the ages, give us clarity, not solutions. They show the problems all generations face and must solve to be human. And that is why we all crave stories. We need them to understand the world around us.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: The Outhouse Gang By Neil Plakcy

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Published by Untreed Reads, 2010
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Have you ever seen a friend after a separation and not quite recognized him at first glance? That’s what happened to me with Neil Plakcy’s new novel, The Outhouse Gang. In the past, the author’s works, mostly mysteries and some erotica, have been pretty high-test and this one is decidedly low octane.

I like to see an author taking a chance, which is the case here. Artistic courage separates the real writer from the hack. As I’ve said often, only the mediocre artist is always at his best. He reaches a certain plateau and never goes beyond it—often, in fact, never knows there is a “beyond.” But the true artist is never content, is always reaching, striving, trying to get it right, and righter still. Plakcy here has stepped away from his writing “comfort zone,” and that in itself is to be applauded. Did he get it right? Well, yes…mostly.

The story is set in the small Pennsylvania town of Stewart’s Crossing starting in 1963. To give their lives a little punch, a group of men steal an outhouse on the night before Halloween and leave it in front of the town hall. This becomes an annual event and the locals, not knowing who they are, dub them The Outhouse Gang.

From this somewhat slender thread the author hangs a series of vignettes, alternating from the viewpoints of the various men in the group, and covering the years up to 1988. This was a tumultuous time—the Vietnam war, the cultural revolution, hippies, drugs, the increasing independence of younger generations—and it’s interesting to see it as a backdrop (and a contrast) to the small town lives of the characters. This is a big canvas to cover, however, and the cast of characters is large, so much of the story is sketched in where sometimes I would like to have seen it painted large.

There’s some very lovely writing here, as one would expect from this author. Here, for instance, and very early on (giving you a good sense of what is to come) he tells you much about the marriage of the hardware store owner by saying little: “During the day he wore a canvas apron over his plaid shirt and jeans. Stray nails, twist-ties, plastic bags, washers and odd pieces of paper always ended up in the pockets of his apron. He’d take it off at the end of the day, puzzled by how much he had accumulated. It was like that with his marriage, too.”

It’s a joy to see this talented writer stretch his wings, but not entirely an unmitigated joy. A couple of bad habits that pop up here and either weren’t there in his writing in the past, or were so minor as to go unnoticed. For one, he has gotten into telescoping plot developments. We see almost all the punches coming before he lands them. There are very few surprises here.

For another, he tends now and again to talk down to the reader. “‘Remember that prank we pulled last year?’” one of the characters asks another. “Sandy laughed. ‘We stole an outhouse in the middle of the night and left it at the town hall,’ he said. ‘How could I forget?’” In reality, neither the other character nor the reader needed to be reminded of so much information. People talk more in shorthand when discussing something they both already know. Or, he could have edged the remarks with sarcasm simply by adding, at the end, “that.”

Still, the shortcomings are few and minor and most readers will enjoy the book. How well they enjoy it depends upon what one is looking for in a read. If you’re seeking heart-stopping excitement, this isn’t the place to look, and if you want to test wits with the author, you’ll probably have more fun with one of Mister Plakcy’s first rate mystery stories. Much of what I’ve read from this author in the past is challenging, the kind of fiction that charges boldly forward, where this novel tends to meander—like taking a stroll in a small town. Still, it’s a pleasant stroll on which he leads us and familiar to anyone who has lived in a town like this, or anyone who lived through the years covered. It succeeds, and admirably, on charm and a certain nostalgic grace, and those are virtues I think over neglected in today’s fiction-world. And I, for one, am glad to see a different side of the author.

For more information about his story, press here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

McCain's hypocrisy on DADT

I was planning to write a blog post about the support I've recently enjoyed from other writers, and how some writers go out of their way to help others. However, I've gotten sidetracked. I came across a quote taken from Jon Stewart that I wanted to share with as many people as possible. The paragraph below was taken from a Campaign Courage email.

On Monday, the Daily Show's Jon Stewart showcased McCain's hypocrisy on DADT along with a cautionary prediction: When the history books are written, McCain's stalling won't be seen as the last brave stand of a beloved statesman, but rather, as the incoherent and ultimately futile desperation of a small-minded man refusing to embrace equal rights.

I generally don't speak of politics on this blog, but when I read that I wanted to stand and salute. I spent four years in the Navy back during the Vietnam conflict (back then we still didn't call it a war) and the entire time I had to keep a huge part of myself hidden from my fellow sailors because of small-minded bigots like McCain. He and I both served our country during the same time in history, yet he thinks he is better than I am. Not only does he think he's better, he thinks I, and people like me, shouldn't even have the right to express ourselves.

Mr. McCain, you are no spring chicken. By this advanced time in your life you should have learned you are no better than anyone else - me included. I, and people like me, should enjoy every right that you do. But apparently you still have not figured it out. I guess some people are simply very slow learners.

It is very much a shame that officials in our government, people whose salaries are paid with my tax dollars, spend their time trying so desperately to take away the rights of the people they represent.

Monday, November 15, 2010

RIP Rainbow-reviews

Over the past several years, J.M. Snyder has organized and run one of the premier LGBT book review sites on the net, Rainbow-reviews. J.M. has worked tirelessly to make her Rainbow-reviews a quality site, by bringing together a group of talented reviewers and riding herd over them.

But in this old world, everything must eventually change. Last summer, J.M. created a new LGBT publishing company – JMS Books. And because she drives herself to guarantee that same level of quality in everything she does, her publishing business has taken off, and hence, eaten more and more of her limited time. Between writing fiction, managing her publishing company, riding herd on Rainbow-reviews, and working a full-time job, J.M. has recently had to make a hard decision, to give up one thing to ensure that the others keep growing. A day ago, J.M. announced that at the end of this year, Rainbow-reviews will post its last review. She will shut down the site some time next year.

The death of Rainbow-reviews will have a huge impact for LGBT readers and writers. It’s a shame, but to tell you the truth, giving up a review site in order to allow a GLBT publishing house to grow and prosper, sounds like a pretty good trade off to me.

I’m writing this post today in order to say thank you, J.M., for all the years of effort and heart that you have given the LGBT writing and reading community. What you managed to create was huge, and will be dearly missed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate J.M. on the success of JMS Books, and wish her continued success in the future. May all your endeavors, J.M., surpass your dreams.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Palm Springs Book Signing

Last weekend, Palm Springs put on their annual Gay and Lesbian Pride celebration. In addition to the Freedom Day Parade, and the two day Pride celebration at a baseball field, The Q Trading Co. bookstore sponsored book signings for several authors, which included Armistead Maupin, Radcliffe, Kage Alan, myself, and others.

I had a blast. Not only did I sell ten times as many books as I did at last year's event, but a number of people I've met on FB and Twitter came up to introduce themselves. It was so much fun talking to these wonderful people in person. In addition to my online friends and people buying books, I had the opportunity to talk shop with author Kage Alan, who is one of the most charming and funniest people I know. He kept me laughing through the afternoon on both days. I also got to have a conversation with Armistead Maupin, who is as charming as he is interesting.

Also, Herman and I were invited to spend an entire week at our friend's, Jimmy and Rob, PS condo. We spent the first day playing tennis and chumming with them, and as alway, we had a wonderful time. And as always, I woke the next morning with a hangover. Not sure what it is about Jimmy and Rob, but I always managed to overdo everything, including drinking.

So here are some pics of the event:
This is a picture of the ballpark where the event was held. This was early in the day. It grew much more crowded in the afternoon. The temps were pushing 90 degrees, so people were showing lots of skin.

This is me posing with Armistead Maupin.

This is Kage Alan and me. Kage is the handsome one in the red shirt and Hollywood shades.

This is me signing a book beside Kage Alan scarfing up an ice cream.

This is me and my three books. Behind me is Ralph, Kage Alan's BF.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Hewlett-Packard

Dear HP,

A few months ago I bought a MacBook Pro, which I love. As a promotional incentive, the company I purchased it from included a free HP wireless printer, which I DON’T love.

I’m writing this letter to complain, not about the printer (which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t), but about the amount of spam your company is filling my inbox with every day.


Believe me, if I had ever thought about buying any of your products, you have convinced me that that would be a major mistake. What makes you think I need to hear from you on a daily basis? Trust me, I don’t. Never is about the right interval for sending me spam.

Even at the incredibly low price of $0.00, I’m regretting taking your product. I was under the impression that nothing could be worse than the LexMark printer I had before installing your product, however, I’m finding myself wishing I had not given that piece of sh*t away. At least when it didn’t work I could figure out why and fix it.

I’m posting this letter with the hope you will take notice and do something to stop the spam from arriving in my inbox. I’ll make you a deal: you stop spamming me, and I’ll stop telling people what crap your products are.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN Does Reading/Signing

Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City Novel
Free and open to the public
Facebook RSVP

Armistead Maupin personally presents his latest Tales of the City novel to our community on Monday, November 15 at 7:30pm with a reading and signing of MARY ANN IN AUTUMN. This is Armistead's only scheduled appearance in the Castro.
For more information, contact -
Oscar Raymundo
Events Coordinator

A Different Light
489 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

(415) 431 0891

Friday, November 5, 2010

Palm Springs Book Signing

Hi Everyone,

This weekend Palm Springs, California is having their annual gay pride celebration. They are taking over a park near the center of town for two days, and will also have a parade down the main drag on Sunday morning, starting at 10 a.m.

As part of the celebration, there will be a host of gay and lesbian authors on hand, myself included, who will be signing books and chatting with readers at the park. We'll all be together at the author's village section of the park.

If you don't have a book to have your favorite author sign, no worries. The Q Trading Co. bookstore will have plenty of books on hand that you can buy at reasonable prices. If you don't want to buy a book or two, at least stop by and say hello.

So if your planning to be in the Palm Springs area over the weekend, come join the fun and support your favorite gay and lesbian authors.

I'll be there signing all three of my books: Match Maker, The Lonely War, and Island Song.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Review: The Rest is Illusion by Eric Arvin

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Young Offenders Media
Pages: 186

At a small college in the Midwest, a cast of characters are unwittingly moving towards a night of magic, a night where the stars align, and destinies are changed. On this night, Dashhel Yarnsbrook – a beautiful, yet, troubled gay student – prepares for death. While Dash struggles to find meaning in his life before death takes him, his three friends and one enemy struggle with their own impediments to attaining adulthood. As the story unfolds, each character must travel their own path, and face their own truth. And for some, a touch of Divine guidance helps them along their path.

I was a bit confused by this story. The simplistic plot and somewhat cliché young characters convinced me that this is a YA novel, yet the vocabulary is geared to a much more sophisticated reader. Still, flowery vocabulary aside, this is a wonderful coming of age tale, full of magic and characters stumbling towards adulthood.

The characters, although lacking depth, are likable and I couldn’t help but cheer them on. There are many touching moments, both sad and happy. I felt the blending of magic into the story worked well. It was not overdone like I’ve seen in other novels.

My one issue with this novel is that I felt it was over written. As mentioned above, the flower prose often went overboard, and when it did it pulled me out of the story and made me notice the writing, instead of being absorbed in the story. For instance, the author wrote: “She sensed what was to come before it happened, and in that second, lying outside of perceived time and place, Sarah let out a great sweeping cry of sadness and regret. It flew past all the known realms of sound, and parted the clouds in the sky.” It’s beautiful writing, yet I often found it over the top.

This is a powerful coming of age story for young adults, one I’m sure that many will be able to identify with, and perhaps help them discover that spark of magic within themselves that will help them down their own path. It is a very unique story line that is both entertaining and inspirational. This is a novel I can highly recommend.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two Five-Star Reviews in One Day

Hi everyone,

I'm celebrating today. I woke up to find not one, but two five-star reviews sitting in my inbox. I couldn't be more thrilled that reviewers are enjoying Match Maker.

The first review at Ebook Addict Reviews said in part: absolutely wonderful characters, the politics of tennis, electric descriptions of tennis play and glimpses into the psyche of tennis players had me so engrossed in the story I didn’t want to put this novel down. For me, the best novels (TV shows and movies for that matter) entwine complementary story lines that emotionally or viscerally capture a reader’s mind and heart. “Match Maker” does both.

The second review at Dark Divas Reviews said in part: Match Maker by Alan Chin is a powerful love story. Mr. Chin’s shocking plot twists provide all of the characters with amazing growth and development and sets the stage for the tremendously heart-warming and emotionally satisfying ending.
You can read the entire review at

Monday, November 1, 2010

Author Dan Stone Interviews Me

Hi everyone,

Dan Stone has posted an interview with me on his site. As with all of the interviews he posts, the focus is on the subject's ideas/thoughts about inspiration.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Reading/Signing at Different Light Bookstore

Last Friday, I joined Kage Alan and G. A. Hauser at Different Light Bookstore in San Francisco for a reading, signing and Q/A of our latest novels.

I would first like to acknowledge and thank Oscar and the great folks at Different Light for organizing this event. They were very hospitable and made us feel welcome.

This was the first time I’ve done a reading with other authors present. I thought I would be nervous, but being up there with G.A. and Kage had the opposite effect. I suppose it was because I was not the only one on the hot seat. It turned out that our chemistry was fantastic. The interesting part was, that we three write completely different genres. G.A. writes hardcore gay erotica, Kage writes gay comedy, and I write gay drama. Somehow, it all blended into a fun and interesting evening.

I know we all three had fun, and judging from the lively Q&A session, the audience enjoyed it as well. Most of the audience stayed around after the signing to chat with us for another hour after the event.

Please take a moment to check out these pictures of the event.