Sunday, January 31, 2010

Writing Tip: Start as Deep Into The Story as Possible

There is a golden rule in screenwriting. Start a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible. That is, don’t start a scene with a man strolling to work, walking into a building, riding up in an elevator, getting called into the boss’s office and then getting fired. Start the scene with the man already in the boss’s office saying “YOU CAN’T FIRE ME!”

This great advice goes for novels as well, both for each chapter and for the overall story.

This topic is heavily on my mind this week because I was reviewing a novel about a woman who, in 1891, leaves her husband in Boston, travels to San Francisco, boards a ship and sails to Hawaii. There she meets a lesbian and has an affair.

The real story is about the heroine’s love affair with this Hawaiian lesbian. The problem was that the novel slogged through 70 pointless pages before the heroine landed in Hawaii, and another 75 pages before she meet the love interest. After a 100 boring pages of what should have been back-story, I emailed the author to tell her I couldn’t give this novel a glowing review. She was adamant that my interest level would soon pick up and that the ending would be very satisfying. Hoping she was right, I read another 100 equally boring pages, which brought me to the book’s halfway mark. I emailed her again to inform her I would not invest any more time in her novel because I couldn’t recommend it.

She wrote back, again adamant that if I kept reading I would love the story. What she doesn’t get, is you can’t bore the reader with 200 pages of tripe before getting to the interesting part. You have to start with the interesting part. You have between ten and twenty pages to hook the reader. If you don’t grab their interest and hold it, you’re done for. And the way you do that is by getting to the point, quickly.

Start as late into the story as possible. In the example above, the story should have started with her seeing Hawaii for the first time from the ship. In chapter two, she could have given 10 pages of back-story telling why she left her husband and sailed to the islands. By chapter three she should have meet the love interest. There, 200 pages cut down to 30. And my point is, that 30 pages would have been much stronger with all the dull crap cut away.

In order to start the story as late as possible, the writer needs a clear understanding of exactly what the story is about. In the example above, the author clearly thought the story was about the heroine’s journey – NOT! The story was, or at least should have been, about the love affair.

So my tip for this week: Understand what your story is about, and get to the heart of it as quickly as possible. There are not many hard and fast rules in writing, but the cardinal sin is: BORING THE READER! Not for a chapter, not for a page.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: Big Diehl by George Seaton

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by MLR Press

Big Diehl (pronounced Big Deal) escapes his going-nowhere ranch life in Laramie, Wyoming the day after he graduated high school. But leaving does not erase the emotional pain inflicted by eighteen years of life with his trailer-trash father.

Diehl’s search for his place in the world leads him to an army recruiting office in Casper. While waiting for the army to process his paperwork, he is temporarily adopted by a pair of hospitable lesbians who own a local bar. They put him up at their ranch where he meets Tony, another “waif” that the ladies have taken in. As it turns out, Tony had been an exemplary Marine until he ran face first into a brick wall called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Diehl and Tony begin to forge a relationship, but the Army intervenes and ships Diehl to boot camp.

Diehl finds Army life satisfying except for the need to hide his sexuality. Opportunities come and go with other desperately lonely souls like himself. He takes advantage of some, not others. The need for stealth limits all relationships to a one-time thing. Or is that Diehl’s emotional pain won’t let him get close to anyone?

After 9/11, Diehl finds himself a squad leader in Iraq, trying to keep his boys alive. The horrors of war and Army life shape Diehl into a man, a troubled man to be sure, but none the less a man of grit. When Diehl’s Iraq tour is suddenly cut short, he finds that he now has the strength to face his pain and confront his past. But does he have the will to fashion a more satisfying life, one where he can settle down with one man? You can ask but I won’t tell.

I found this to be a completely satisfying read. The characters and situations are completely believable. In fact, having spent four years in the Navy, during which time I hid deeply in the closet, Diehl’s experiences brought back many memories of living stealth – so many terribly lonely nights and the constant fear of being caught. This story makes a strong and clear statement about the emotional pain suffered by brave men and women honorably serving their county.

I found this read occasionally touching without becoming overly so. And although the ending is not happily ever after, it was a strong and sensible conclusion.

In addition to being emotionally stratifying, I found this story extremely well structured and well written. It has a clipped language that took me several pages to become accustomed to, but once I did I love the author’s voice.

The character of Diehl is well drawn and completely likable. If I have any minor complaint about this story is that some of the other characters could have had more depth. My only other complaint is that the story is a bit short, about 85 pages. I saw many opportunities to expand the story into something longer, but hey. I’m nit picking. I highly recommend Big Diehl.

For more information about this book, press here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fun With Words

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are the 2009 winners:

1. /Cashtration/ (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. /Ignoranus/: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. /Intaxication/: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. /Reintarnation/: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. /Bozone/ (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. /Foreploy/: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. /Giraffiti/: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. /Sarchasm/: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. /Inoculatte/: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. /Osteopornosis/: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. /Karmageddon/: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. /Decafalon/ (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. /Glibido/: All talk and no action.

14. /Dopeler Effect/: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. /Arachnoleptic Fit/ (n..): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. /Beelzebug/ (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. /Caterpallor/ (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Book Review: The Judgment of Paris by Gore Vidal

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis
Published by De Capo Books, 2007

The Judgment of Paris is an early work from the writer who used to be Gore Vidal, which is to say, I like it lots better than his later writings, which tended to grow increasingly ponderous, and especially bitter, as the years and the words progressed. But in 1952, he was still a young man, or young enough anyway to write with a young man's verve. The wit was there—he never quite lost that—but it became more acidic and less purely funny as time went by. This is, in fact, a very funny book, a farce, but of the best kind, in which we see the world as it is, through the eyes of a keen observer of human nature.

Philip Warren is a bit shy of 30 years old and just out of law school after a stint in the U.S. Navy. Much like Charley Mason in Maugham's Christmas Holiday (which this books resembles rather more than coincidence would suppose) Philip gives himself a year to tour postwar Europe, in the course of which travels, like Paris with his golden apple (though it is not his apple with which Philip entices his co-characters) he meets and becomes involved with three women, who tempt him variously with power, wisdom and love.

No, it's not exactly a gay novel, but, puh-leeze, this is Gore Vidal. Poor heterosexual Philip can scarcely turn around without tripping over a queen or two. Here, a handsome young hustler explains the facts of Italian life to Philip: "He talked a great deal, stating, as far as Philip could tell, that all Americans, English and Germans liked Italian boys, and even Italian boys, though they didn't make too great a thing of it, liked Italian boys."

This meeting occurs at a gay bathhouse, where—here is Vidal's twisted sense of humor at its best—Philip goes not for the predictable sex, which he knows very well is what he will find there, but to meet with a trio of somewhat deranged political conspirators intent on returning Umberto to the throne of Italy and so ending the postwar Italian republic. Chief conspirator Lord Glenellen insists on buying Philip one of the Italian youths on display, who turns Philip down because he's too young and too good looking. Oh, Gore, what a tease you were.

And here an intriguing aside on the pleasures of reading about sex:

"Now, part of the pleasure one gets from reading novels is the inevitable moment when the hero beds the heroine or, in certain advanced and decadent works, the hero beds another hero in an infernal glow of impropriety. The mechanical side of the operation is of intense interest to everyone. Partly, of course, because so few of us get entirely what we want when it comes to this sort of thing and, too, there is something remarkably exciting about the sex lies of fictional characters…one feels far more clearly engaged than one does in life where the whole thing is often confused and clumsy. Also, there is a formidable amount of voyeurism in us all and literature, even better than pornographic pictures, provides us at its best with an excitation occasionally more poignant than the real thing."

Despite some earlier successes (The City and the Pillar among them) this might be said to be the first true Gore Vidal novel, when at last he found a voice worthy of his talent. A delightful read!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing Tip #1

I’m currently helping an unpublished writer rework his manuscript. During my editing, I’ve come across numerous issues that many beginners struggle with, some of which took me years to overcome. While writing one of my frequent messages to him on why active verbs are preferable to passive, I decided to start documenting this information I’m passing him, in case others might find value in my limited experience.

So with that said, I plan to post one tip per week, hopefully every Monday, documenting something I believe will help beginning writers. I am by no means an expert on writing, on anything really, but with two published books under my belt an another looking for a publisher, I feel I have some amount of experience to offer.

If you are beyond my level of advice, then my hat is off to you and I wish you success in your writing. If you find value in these tips, I’m grateful to have helped someone a few more inches down the writing path.

My first tip is perhaps my most valuable: WRITE & READ EVERY DAY!

I believe the most useful thing a writer can do to improve their craft is to practice it daily. Sitting under a tree thinking of plot structure and character development is time well spent but it doesn’t get the baby washed. Writers write. Serious writers write every day.

The act of writing will develop your voice and style, even if you’re writing garbage. And yes, allow yourself to write garbage because that is far better than not writing. The more you write, the better your garbage gets.

I feel that it’s also important to establish a routine, say, write two hours every morning, or two hours before bed. Setting aside a certain time of day trains your mind when to jump into that creative mode. It becomes automatic, or at least easier. I prefer mornings, 7am to 11am. I sometimes push it into the afternoon if I’m in a groove.

I know some published writers who try to squeeze in writing whenever they have a few moments, or a spare hour. I honestly don’t see how they manage to get anything done. My feeling is, if you’re serious about your craft, you make the time, even if you have to wake yourself a few hours early and go without sleep, or miss your favorite TV shows. If you are not serious about your craft, why bother?

Excellence is won by training and habituation. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. – Aristotle

The second most valuable thing a writer can do is read daily. Read a book a week. Study how other authors handle character development, plot structure, sentence structures. There is a wealth of fantastic examples out there waiting to teach you, and all you have to do is pick them up and read. Read everything – dead authors, really dead authors, live authors, fiction, memoirs, biographies. It’s important to read tons in your own genre, but it’s equally important to branch out.

Pick the best of breed in each genre, which doesn’t mean the best sellers. It takes a bit of work to find the really fine writers. When you come across an author that strikes a cord within you, read everything they’ve written. Good writing touches peoples’ inner feelings. If you find a writer who can do that to you, study him/her.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill

Reviewed by Victor Banis
Published by Dell Publishing

Like a number of British mystery writers, it seems to me, Reginald Hill is something of an acquired taste for Americans, notwithstanding that some of his Dalziel/Pascoe stories have been successfully transformed into television movies, I like them, the books I mean, not the least for the way in which he brings his repeat gay character, Sergeant Wield, into the plots without making much of an ado about his sexuality. He's out to his fellow officers, but in a very much ho-hum way.

I was surprised, however, to discover in PICTURES OF PERFECTION that Wield becomes pretty much the main character, and even seems to be, by book's end, in the way of a relationship. This strikes me as a bold move for an author of Hill's standing, whose audience, I feel sure, is somewhat a different one from Suzanne Brockman's. But I must quickly confess, I am far from having read all Hill's books (I'm trying to drag out the experience), and maybe he has done this elsewhere as well, in which case, I would be glad to hear of it.

Apart from the gay element, PICTURES is a most satisfactory read on all fronts - always assuming your cup of tea. I suppose it would be categorized as "an English Village Mystery" if there is such a genre, in so far as I can't imagine how it could be moved anywhere else. Indeed, the village of Enscombe is an important character in the book and by the time you've finished reading, you feel you know it well.

Young Constable Bendish, posted to the village, seems to have disappeared—or has he? Dalziel and Pascoe want to be sure he hasn't just gone a'fishing, and they send Wield to Enscombe to sort things out. What results is, as always with Hill's writings, witty and erudite. Nothing is what it seems, everyone has secrets, and The Fat Man (Dalziel) breaks rules and wind with equal ease. I find myself especially interested, as a writer, with Hill's legerdemain in describing his characters - he does, and he doesn't. I think I know, for instance, what Wield looks like - homely, it would seem. Or, maybe not. Other characters in the book clearly don't find him so, and when I go back to look, I can't find where Hill ever offered that description. He is a master at making you think he's told you more than he really has. Writing by insinuation, I suppose you'd call it.

Whatever you call it, however, it's masterful stuff, the kind of writing where you have to pause from time to time and go back over a line to savor it fully before you swallow and digest it.

I'm quite sure this is not for everybody. Certainly if one is looking for erotic, there's nothing here of that sort, though I must admit I got a nice little titter out of the business of the naked policeman scampering about in, it is made quite clear, an aroused state. For true mystery fans, however, this is the real thing, and it is a surprisingly delicious tidbit for the thinking reader - emphasis on "thinking."

For more about this book, press here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Two wonderful things happened today

My day started with an email from a fan. It's the first email I've received regarding my new book The Lonely War, and it made my day:

"Dear Mr. Chin,
I justed wanted to let you know that I read recently your new book "The Lonely  War" and I loved it immensely. Parts of it made me cry. The book has a lot  depth and great spiritual wisdom. Thanks for writing it.  Kind regards Ursula"
I'm sharing this not only to brag, but to let people know how much a simple note like this means to any author. I was floating on cloud nine all day. 
So please, if you read a book that touches you in some way, take a few minutes to google the author and send them a note of thanks.  It really makes a huge difference.
The second thing that happened is that I finished the first draft of my second screenplay. I've been working on it off and on since last summer, and the full story is now down on paper.
Now the real work begins - the rewrites, the fighting to get every word right, the endless hours of proofreading. From here on out it's work, baby.
So I'm hoisting a glass a beer tonight to celebrate the completion of the 1st draft.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My List of Top LGBT Themed Books.

In 2009 I read over 35 lgbt themed books, and posted over 20 reviews on my blog and my GLBT Literature column. The 15 books I didn't post reviews for were the ones I didn't finish for one reason or another. Of all those books, many wonderful and many not so, I'd like to present the 10 that I enjoyed the most. I list them in no particular order.

Safe as Houses by Alex Jeffers
Publisher: Lethe Press.

Allen Pasztory was raised by Hungarian immigrant parents who were both deaf. Even though he hears, he was brought up talking with his hands and facial expressions. He meets Jeremy while working at an advertizing agency in San Francisco. The two begin a rocky relationship until Allen finds out Jeremy is raising a son, Toby. The idea of being a family, of raising a child, is all that’s needed for Allen to commit to a long-term relationship. The three of them setup house in San Francisco and all seems to move along without a care, except that it’s the 80s and many of their friends are dying of AIDS.

Out of the blue, Allen takes a new job as an admissions officer at a prep school in Rhode Island, and it’s clear the move is because death is inching too close for comfort in the gay Mecca. Yes, Allen is HIV positive, and the move is him distancing himself from the dying.

While making a new life for himself and his small family (by this time Toby is a teenager), Allen’s nephew, Kit, comes to live with them as well. Together, as a loving family, they deal with Allen’s failing health in a touching and dignified way.

A Report From Winter, A Memoir by Wayne Courtois
Published by Lethe Press

In the dead of winter, after a ten-year absence, Wayne Courtois journeys back to his family home in Maine to attend to his dying mother. He is soon assaulted by three facts: the bitter cold winters in Maine are much more brutal than he remembered, his mother’s cancer is much further along than he anticipated, and his emotionally distant brother will be of no help in caring for their mother or attending to funeral arrangements.

Too weak to move, eat or speak, Wayne’s mother can only moan. The morphine drip is her sole comfort. Wayne can only hold her hand while reliving childhood memories of a dysfunctional family life that seems woven into the harsh realities of the bitter cold weather. Sinking into emotional turmoil, Wayne calls on Ralph, his longtime partner, to help him through this distressing ordeal.

Do You Remember Tulum by Alex Jeffers
PUBLISHER: CreateSpace

In 1977, Alex, a nineteen-year-old, would-be novelist, relocates to a small town in southern Mexico. Shortly after his arrival, his boss arrives with ten students on spring break, and Alex must act as driver and chaperone to the, only somewhat younger, students. Among the youths that have come to explore ancient Mayan sites are dark, sexy Peter and quiet, mysterious Keenan. During the two week expedition where Alex pilots the boys across the Yucatan in an old van, Peter and Keenan’s sexual advances upend the writer’s comfortable life, making him question everything he knows about love and relationships.

A dozen years later, with a spur-of-the-moment decision, Alex leaves his Boston lover and returns to Mexico to explore his past. At Tulum he begins a rather long and detailed letter to his abandoned lover, to explain his abrupt, inadequately explained departure. As Alex tries to explain the effect the 1977 trip had on him, a then confused and frightened youth, he pours his guilt, regrets, desires, and love onto the pages of the letter, letting us know how the youth became a man capable of expressing love.

Angel Land by Victor Banis
Published by Quest

Victor Banis takes the reader into the future, late in the 21st Century, when the United States has disintegrated into territories ruled by Fundamental Christians. Catholics, Baptists and Jews are registered as heretics, and gays are herded into walled ghettos that are reminiscent of the Jewish slums of Nazi Germany. In this setting, Harvey Milk Walton, a young gay man on the run from the religious authorities, finds that his only option to escape execution is to hide in the gay ghetto, but he soon finds himself jumping from the frying pan into the fire, because the ghetto holds its own lethal threat: the Sept virus. Sept is the seventh and deadliest mutation of the AIDS virus of the Twentieth Century, but unlike AIDS, no one is exactly sure how Sept is transmitted, which makes it all the more frightening.
In a crumbling totalitarian society, where evil masquerades as piety, gay people are cut off from the rest of humanity and dying of the Sept virus, Harvey Milk Walton faces great danger and agonizing choices which could affect the future of mankind. Can he muster enough strength to live up to his martyred namesake of long ago and rise to lead a rebellion?

False Colors by Alex Beecroft
Published by Running Press

In 1762, John Cavendish is given his first command, the HMS Meteor. Along with a motley crew and a handsome second in command (Lt. Alfie Donwell), Cavendish receives orders for a suicide mission to attack a fleet of pirates off the coast of North Africa. The captain’s stern moral attitude keeps a distance between himself and Donwell, but before HMS Meteor can engage the enemy, Donwell is captured and beaten to within an inch of his life. Cavendish leads a daring rescue mission and recovers his lieutenant, then unleashes a bold attack and manages to inflict his revenge, complete his mission, and flee the enemy relatively unscathed.

But before they reach the safety of port Gibraltar, Cavendish is wounded during another sea battle, and it’s Lt. Donwell’s turn to play nursemaid. During Cavendish’s recuperation, he and Donwell slowly become close friends – born from each other’s brush with death – so close that Donwell misinterpret the captain’s familiarity and makes an improper advance, professing his love for Cavendish. The captain immediately rejects him, and fearing recrimination which could lead to hanging, he takes a berth on another ship, HMS Britannia where he comes under the protection of Captain Farrant, a gay man whom Donwell has a history. They quickly become lovers, and Farrant tells Donwell, "Stop chasing love. Love is not for men like us. We share a deviancy we must pay for with lives of exemplary duty...You will get yourself hanged if you think otherwise.” Although that seems to be a theme in the story, it’s impossible for the hot blooded Lieutenant to follow such advice.

The Unborn Spouse Situation by Matt Rauscher
Publisher: Lulu

Augie Schoenburg is twenty-two, gay, a senior at college, an aspiring filmmaker, and desperately lonely. When he moves into The Harley Hut, the wildest party house on campus, life gets very complicated because he is constantly surrounded by a bevy of hot, supposedly straight, party boys – or so he believes. Augie’s five new housemates all know he is gay, and, on the surface, are fine with it. But after several weeks of living together, sexual tensions rise as all six men struggle with their inner demons. When Augie falls hard for one housemate, Victor Radhakrishna, his world begins to crumble. The other housemates turn against him, as does several of his friends, pushing him onto a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs. The funny thing is, Victor seems to enjoy the gay sexual attention. He even gives back as much as he takes. Yes, for a horny, gay boy living with a rowdy straight crowd, life can get very complicated indeed.

Strange Fortune by Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Blind Eye Books

Valentine Strange is delighted to accept a job from the Holy Order to find and retrieve an antique diadem of the Goddess Purya from somewhere in the distant White Mountains. Although the mountains are filled with bandits and scoundrels, this soldier of fortune has little fear of anything short of not being paid for his services. But when the Holy Order insists that Master Aleister Grimshaw, a witch with a history of insanity, join the expedition, Strange realizes there is more at stake than the retrieval of a relic.

As the small band begins their search, Strange and Grimshaw forge a tenuous friendship. But they are followed, step by step, not only by bandits, but by a demonic power more powerful than anyone could imagine. When the stakes are raised well beyond the danger level and they are betrayed at every turn, they are forced to rely on each other for survival. Finding the diadem could spell doom for Strange and Grimshaw, or could it be their only hope of survival?

The Phoenix by Ruth Sims

The Phoenix by Ruth Sims
published by Lethe Press

This compelling Victorian saga brings together two men. The first, Kit St. Denys (starts off as Jack Rourke), grew to the doorstep of manhood as a gutter rat in the slums of London. He suffered from poverty, a weakling brother, a prostitute mother, and a brutally abusive father. The one silver lining in his life was, by luck, that he established a connection with the theater, and began an acting career that would eventually lead to fame and riches, but only after Kit’s mother leaves them, his brother dies at the hand of his father, and Kit stabs his father in a vicious fight. To hide Kit from the law, a rich theater owner adopts him and changes his identity.
The other man, Nicholas Stuart, was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a poor village doctor. Nicholas however, runs off to study at the university, and becomes a highly qualified surgeon, respected by peers. He opens a clinic for London’s poor and lives a frugal, passionless life, until the day he accompanies friends to the theater and sees Kit St. Denys on stage. Nicholas is entranced by Kit, and when an act of luck brings him to Kit’s dressing room after the play, the two men are enchanted by each other in such strong terms that their budding love transcends time, distance, and a host of obstacles.

Able Was I by Drew Banks
Published by Dot Dash Press

Wandering through Europe on a post-college vacation, Grey Tigrett spends an unforgettable day on Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. During his stay, he experiences his first gay sex as he and an older, married man fall into a passionate situation that neither can control. For Grey Tegrett, it was a life-altering experience that allowed him to fully embrace his gayness. And for the first time in his life, perhaps the only time, he felt at peace, even happy.

Fourteen years later, Grey Tigrett finds himself adrift in a mundane life, impotent to change what he has grown to loath. He lives in a wonderful loft in a fashionable part of Manhattan, has a socialite lover, great executive job. Everything should be swimming, but he sinks deeper into despair, retreating deeper into his imagination and away from his meaningless life.

On the eve of the new millennium, a series of tragic events leads Grey back to Elba in a desperate attempt to find himself, and hopefully rediscover the happiness he once found there. He searches for that married man who changed his life, but finds the man’s grandson instead. The two hit it off as friends and seem to be heading towards a relationship. But wait, is this what Grey is looking for, another island romance, or is it just another form of escape? Is it possible to reconcile the future by delving into the past? Will Elba be his downfall or his savior?

And forgive me if I include my personal favorite of the year:
The Lonely War by Alan Chin
Published by Zumaya Publishing

The key issue keeping the U.S. armed forces from going beyond Don't Ask Don't Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is a blind fear of love relationships forming, not between enlisted soldiers but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. The Lonely War tackles this topic head on. Set in WWII, it tells the story of an enlisted sailor who falls in love with his executive officer. When the crew of the USS Pilgrim become POWs in Changi, a notoriously brutal prison camp, this sailor is elevated though hardship and love to discover his inner resources and extraordinary courage, allowing him to sacrifice himself to save the life of his beloved.

Like most war novels, The Lonely War envelops all that is unique to war, the horror of battle, overcoming fear, the cruelty of soldiers, the loyalty and camaraderie of men caught in a desperate situation. Yet, it stands alone in two important ways. First, it is a passionate story written about a tender love developing between an officer and an enlisted man, revealing a rare and dignified portrait of a couple struggling to satisfy desire within the confines of the military code of conduct. Even more importantly however, it describes the heart-wrenching measures of how much one man will sacrifice to save the life and reputation of the man he loves.

Hope you enjoy,
alan chin

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My New and Improved Website is UP!

Hi everyone,

My new book, The Lonely War, came out after I had left the states on an extended vacation. No problem, except that my website only gave information about my first novel, Island Song. So over the past few weeks, and without my handy-dandy HTML bible, I began to create a new and improved website from scratch. And I'm proud to say it's up and running at

This was a collective effort from both me and my husband, Herman Chin. He designed the look and feel, I bolted his ideas together into a cohesive website. Our aim was to create something simple and clean, yet informative. From the feedback so far, it looks like we've hit the mark.

Please take a moment to check it out, and we welcome any feedback. And while you're there, signup for a free short story.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Review: Best Gay Romances 2009 edited by Richard Lebonte

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Cleis Press Inc.

Although I love short fiction, I’m not a huge fan of anthologies. I always seem to read several nothing-special stories before stumbling on something unique and gripping. I found this to be the case with Best Gay Romances, 2009. Of the eighteen stories by some notable writers, there were only two I considered poorly written. A few others I classified as erotic rather than romance, but only two, Pools of Paradise by David Holly and Finders Keepers by Rob Rosen, that I’d labeled bad porn. The majority of these short stories were cute and romantic and well written, yet not the kind of stories that blew my socks off. Of course, there were a half-dozen fresh, sensitive stories that made the read worthwhile, I for the rest of this review I’ll focus on them.

One by T. Hitman, is a cute tale about Lyle, who works on a loading dock and has the hots for Mike, his straight co-worker. Word gets around the job site that Lyle is gay and be begins to take a lot of heat from the red-necks, but then an encounter with Mike changes everything. The fact that this story is predictable and a cliché did not keep me from enjoying it. Both the characters and their situations seemed real and kept me turning the pages.

What We Leave Behind by Shanna Germain deals with the loss of a loved one, and finding someone new. After losing his lover, the narrator takes in a dog, Annie, who is dying of cancer and only has months to live. The care-person who delivers Annie is just the kind of man the narrator craves. Caring for the dog makes the narrator relive portions of losing his lover, while at the same time, regular visits from the care-person seems to heal the pain. A touching story about loss, with a positively sexy ending.

Briefly Forever by Lee Houck isn’t kidding when it says briefly. It is only two and a half pages long, yet describes a love that lasts a lifetime. It’s about the kind of choices one makes early in life, and what can happen when you let go of those ideals and let life play you. Life brings something totally fantastic into your experience, then eventually takes it away, leaving an impression so deep that nothing else can ever fill it. These are powerful images painted with very few words.

Liebestod: Love/Death final Aria with Imaginary Music by Robert M. Dewey is perhaps my favorite of the lot. It’s a brilliantly told story of an old man trying to kill himself while remembering his dead lover. It kept me on the edge of my seat. It has beauty, originality, and was extremely well written. I could feel this person’s pain and past joy. A delight.

Afflicted by J.M. Synder was my other favorite. It is the enthralling story of falling in love with someone who holds so much pain in his heart that he must mutilate himself with razors in order to focus on the pain outside, to ease the hurt inside. It’s about being powerless to help the one you adore. It’s a sensitive, convincing drama told with grace and deep insight into the human heart. J.M. Synder has become a master of short fiction.

Sail Away by Tom Cardamone is a bit of a strange tale that spans a man’s entire life. It begins with his first sexual experience as a boy, and follows his free-as-a-bird life style as he cruses the beaches and back roads of Florida, hooking up with sailors and men on the fringe. He takes comfort wherever it is offered, until he meets Dag on Lido Key. A bit older but just as free-spirited, Dag and the narrator spend a life together until Dag passes on. After Dag, the narrator wanders the world, from Baja to Bangkok, until he finally finds peace in the place he first met Dag. Well told, absorbing. My heart went out this man of whom I never leaned his name.

Although most of the stories in this collection are enjoyable, these six make Best Gay Romances, 2009 a very worthwhile read. If you’re a fan of short fiction, I highly recommend putting this book on your must read list.

For more info about his book, press here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Been MIA for the last week

Hi everyone,

I've got good news and bad. The good news is that I'm back on Nei Harn beach in beautiful Thailand. I love this place - relaxing, great beach that's not too crowded, wonderful little mom&pop restaurants, and everything within walking distance of my guesthouse.

The bad news is that this guesthouse is supposed to supply WIFI access to the internet - NOT! For whatever reason, their system has been down, and now that it's back up it is flaky and sooooo slow my system keeps timing out. This explains why there have been no posts for the last week. I have some posts ready to go, and if this system will stay up long enough, I'll post them.

Besides all that, I spend my early mornings writing and mid-day browning at the beach. Nights are spent eating spicy Thai food and cooling the fire with plenty of beer. It's a nice way to spend a winter's day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: Able Was I by Drew Banks

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Dot Dash Press

Wandering through Europe on a post-college vacation, Grey Tigrett spends an unforgettable day on Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. During his stay, he experiences his first gay sex as he and an older, married man fall into a passionate situation that neither can control. For Grey Tegrett, it was a life-altering experience that allowed him to fully embrace his gayness. And for the first time in his life, perhaps the only time, he felt at peace, even happy.

Fourteen years later, Grey Tigrett finds himself adrift in a mundane life, impotent to change what he has grown to loath. He lives in a wonderful loft in a fashionable part of Manhattan, has a socialite lover, great executive job. Everything should be swimming, but he sinks deeper into despair, retreating deeper into his imagination and away from his meaningless life.

On the eve of the new millennium, a series of tragic events leads Grey back to Elba in a desperate attempt to find himself, and hopefully rediscover the happiness he once found there. He searches for that married man who changed his life, but finds the man’s grandson instead. The two hit it off as friends and seem to be heading towards a relationship. But wait, is this what Grey is looking for, another island romance, or is it just another form of escape? Is it possible to reconcile the future by delving into the past? Will Elba be his downfall or his savior?

There were parts of this book I loved, and parts I didn’t. The first forty-six pages – Grey’s time spent in Europe and on Elba – was some of the most beautiful writing I have read in a long, long time. Clearly Banks is an extremely talented writer. And again, when Grey returns to Elba, I couldn’t put it down. The story held me with an engrossing story of two men who need each other, but move slowly towards friendship, both being very cautious not to make mistakes.

Yet, the time Grey spends in New York and the time after Elba, I found weighed down with way too much dull, seemingly pointless detail, so much so that more than once I nearly put it down and walked away. Yes, the author was making a statement that Grey’s life was torturously meaningless for him, contrasting it to that day on Elba – I get it. There was no need to hammer me over the head with it for 130 pages, nor a need to describe everything in minute detail. Fortunately, once Grey returns to Elba, the pace picks up again.

Yet, even with this painfully slow middle section, I finished this read with a smile. The writing style and voice are superb. Just read this tidbit:

“Before I saw Elba, there was nothing but sea and sky. Then it appeared, small on the horizon, an insignificant fleck just below the vanishing point. On the water, perspectives are not forged from hard angles. No perfect square is centered on the edge of the sea. The imminence is the same, yet the path, variable. Nascent and amorphous, the island bobs up, down, right and left as the boat stays its course.”

The characters have depth, the settings are vivid with lush description, the relationships seem too real to be fiction. Banks is a talent, and it shows through as brightly as the sun peaking over the horizon where water meets the sky. I highly recommend Able Was I.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


A message from:
Stanley Ridge, Managing Editor
Wilde Oats Magazine

February is the deadline for submissions for the 4th issue of Wilde Oats, which will appear on line immediately after Easter. We accept submissions at any time, holding any that reach us after the deadline for the following issue.

Issue 4 has no particular theme. We are looking for quality stories and/or opinion pieces that bear on the lives of gay men. Stories should be between approximately 2,000 and 10,000 words, but we will accept longer stories if they are very good, and we do serialize novellas. Opinion pieces should be under 1,000 words.

Also, please let us know if you have a book you would like to review or one you would like to review for us. If you want us to write a review we need to receive a copy by 17 February, but will accept reviews you submit until 10 March.

Email submissions as an attachment to For formatting guidelines, see

And if you haven’t yet, do check out issue 3 at

Thank you for your past contributions to and continuing interest in Wilde Oats magazine. We look forward to reading more of your stories.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Starting Off the Year With a 5 Star Review

The great folks at Speak It's Name started the New Year by posting a 5 star review for The Lonely War. This was the first time I've seen two reviewers collaborate on one review, but it worked perfectly and I couldn't be more thrilled at the result. It you have a minute or two, check it out at:

In part they said:
"I sometimes wonder why I like war stories so much, since I certainly don’t like war! Maybe it is because the well-written ones do so much to point out the futility and ultimate uselessness of killing each other; that being brutal and hateful is not the way to solve problems even when we are put up against evil people. But we persist. In The Lonely War, Chin makes us ask those hard questions again, framing them against the background of very real men caught up in extraordinary and terrible circumstances. He puts World War II on a human plane, which is, for the soldiers and sailors—men like Andrew—how it was fought. As I closed the last page, my heart ached for all of them.
I would suggest that a fitting resolution for 2010 is to put this book on your “must read” list—sooner, rather than later. It’s that good and Tish and I recommend it wholeheartedly."

Also, for anyone who's interested in kicking the tires, Carey Parrish at Web Digest Weekly has posted the first chapter of The lonely War. He will post one chapter a week for the next four weeks at:

alan chin

The Best Kind of New Year’s Present!

Hope everyone had a fabulous New Year. I've been MIA for three days with my head down, working like a dog. On New Year’s Eve I received a wonderful present, an email from a fellow screenwriter telling me she had mentioned my script, Daddy’s Money, to a producer/agent during a pitch session. Apparently, the producer thinks enough of my premise that he wants to read the script. Yeah!!

So I’ve spent the last few days proofing, tightening the dialog, crossing the Ts. The words are now swimming in front of my eyes, but I’m ready to send it off. Please everyone, cross your fingers and toes for me. A nobody screenwriter doesn’t get too many of these opportunities, so wish me luck.

Now I can sit back and rest for a day or two before returning to the novel I’m working on. It’s great to be starting a new year with hope.

Best to all.