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.