Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: A Hundred Little Lies by Jon Wilson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Pages: 211

Jack Tulle owns and runs the general store in the sleepy town of Bodey, Colorado. He and his eight-year-old daughter live above the store. For years he has played the doting father, honest businessman, member of the town council, and pillar of the community. He is respected and admired by all.

But then the local saloon announces plans to hold a professional poker tournament that boasts an impressive grand prize. It is sure to draw the West’s elite card players, which could cause Jack Tulle to loose everything he cares about. You see, for eight years Jack has been living a lie, and lies are like termites, where there is one, there is a whole nest. Lies multiply and build on themselves until you’re standing on a rickety platform that could collapse at the slightest gust of wind. And this poker tournament could prove to be a hurricane for Jack.

The author very cleverly reveals Jack’s hundred little lies one or two at a time. The first reveal comes in the form of Tom Jude, a card shark that Jack used to run with. When Tom shows up a few days before the tournament, the two are reunited and the reader realizes they were more than friends, they were—and still are—in love with each other. After some fairly hot sex, the reader finds they were more than lovers, they were partners-in-crime. Both men were card cheats, con men, and always available for an opportune swindle. They were hard drinking, hard fighting scoundrels.

As more old “business acquaintances” come into town for the tournament, Jack finds himself scrambling to maintain his deception by piling on more lies to the town’s folk. But of course the more lies that accumulate, the more truths that are uncovered. And the reader discovers that at the bottom of the heap are some truths that are much worse than cheating at cards and the odd swindle. Jack is hiding something that could send him to prison, perhaps even the hanging tree. He knows he should simply leave town until everything blows over, but he can’t abide leaving Tom Jude again.

And of course Tom Jude has his own secrets, and Jack feels compelled to get to the bottom of them before it’s too late.

This is a funny, moving, delightful romance. What struck me most is the enchanting voice the narrator takes on, reminiscent of Mark Twain, which adds so much pleasure to the experience. The story is skillfully crafted, and because it takes place over just a few days time, the author goes into delicious detail with each scene.

Because of that detail, the reader is able to drill down into the many layers of the main characters and also the secondary characters. As the layers are pealed away, the tensions rise, making Jack and Tom arc, that is, develop as characters, making this a well-rounded and very satisfying story.

In poker terms, this book is an ace-high straight flush; only it’s anything but straight. It is an exceptional debut novel by a writer everyone should keep on their radar screen. I highly recommend this story to all readers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 6 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #6:

Written by Alan Chin

In October, 2008, a seed I had planted and nurtured and worked toward for several years had finally flowered. My first book, Island Song, was published. As I held a copy in my hands, I said to myself, “You’re now published, and what you’ve written will have an effect on readers. Who knows how many people will read this?”

My euphoria wore off in only a few days, and reality settled in—if I really wanted many readers to be effected by my novel, then I needed to let them know about it. Up until that point I had thought the whole writing/editing/publishing effort had been hard work, but now I needed to market my book, and I had no idea of where to start.

I read a study that claimed over 80%—over 80%!!!—of all books published in 2006 sold less than one-hundred copies. They attributed this sad statistic to the fact that most publishers do nothing to promote books unless well-known authors write them. Add to that, most writers are dismal at marketing. They sell a few dozen books to friends and family, and give up due to lack of confidence or lack of effort. I became determined to sell several hundred copies, perhaps even thousands. But how?

I knew that many authors spend hordes of money traveling to book expos and bookstore signings to peddle their books, but I didn’t have the confidence that sinking that much money into promotion would pay off in the long run. It seemed to me that spending time on the Internet—direct mailings, writing blogs, literary group discussions, chat rooms, review sites, Facebook and Twitter—was a cheap way to get my name out there. It could also be the most effective way, my publisher informed me, if I was willing to put in the time and effort. Luckily, being retired, I had plenty of both to spare.

So I began to split my time between two tasks. I spent mornings, generally 8am to noon, working on my third novel, Match Maker, a story of gay tennis players battling homophobia on the pro tennis circuit. I would break for lunch and a few hours with my husband, be back at the computer by 3pm, and would work the Internet in whatever way presented itself until dinner at 7pm. That became, and still is, my pattern—four hours of writing in the mornings, four hours of marketing in the afternoons. It’s been a fulltime job since 2008. So much for retirement….

It didn’t take long before my hours upon hours of working the Internet felt like screaming into a black hole. Nothing came back, and the sales figures for my first two books confirmed that my efforts produced little results. The thing that effectively boosted sales was book reviews, and I was fortunate to gather a number of five-star reviews from prominent reviewers. But there were only a handful of sites that reviewed lgbt themed books. So in 2009, I began reviewing lgbt themed books and posting them on my writer’s blog. That led to creating two other review sites, including managing an LGBT literature column for here in San Francisco. I quickly found that I enjoyed reading/reviewing other writer’s works, and I felt I was offering other writers new outlets to promote their books. It became a win/win situation not only for me, but also for the writers I admire. It also put me in contact with dozens of writers and publishers whom I never would have met otherwise.

Today I review thirty to forty books per year, and my reviews are read on six different literary sites, including Lambda’s literary blog. Even though more readers were seeing my name here and there, sales were still sluggish. When I published my third novel, Match Maker, with a different publisher, Dreamspinner Press, my sales took a very satisfying jump. I believe this happened for two reasons. First, the book was very well received by readers and reviewers. Second, Dreamspinner Press helps its authors promote their books. Since switching publishers, my books sales have been steadily rising, and I’m pretty thrilled about it.

But still I spent four or more hours per day promoting my books, all the time thinking there must be an easier way. Then a fellow writer told me I should become a screenwriter if I didn’t like promoting. Screenwriters write movie scripts, sell them to studios, and the studios do the promotion. That sounded great to me. And how difficult could it be writing movie scripts? I mean, I’ve sat through volumes of movies thinking: I can do better than this….

Let me say, I couldn’t have been more wrong. But more about my journey down the screenwriting path in the next installment.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Birthday My Darling

Today is my husband’s birthday. Yes, I said husband. Herman and I were married the day after it became legal to wed same-sex couples in California. We are both the same age, 58, both the same build and coloring, and both still in love with each other after being together for seventeen years.

Tonight I am treating Herman to a romantic dinner (yes, even at our advanced age we still enjoy a little romance) at a tapas restaurant that sits only a block from the spot overlooking San Francisco Bay where we first pledged our love for each other.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Review: Like Lovers Do by Lori L. Lake

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Yellow Rose Books
Pages: 194

Kennie McClain is a security guard/handy person at a Portland apartment complex. Unbeknownst to her tenants at the Allen Arms, she also owns the building. She is still in recovery mode from the loss of her lover three years prior, but she also has eyes for the sexy artist, Lily Gordon, who rents the entire top floor for an art studio.

Lily is beautiful, stylish, and a nationally-acclaimed painter. She also has a hard-as-nails, detective girlfriend who will stop at nothing to protect her relationship with Lily.

A series of events lead Kennie into Lily’s bed for a night of blissful lovemaking, which opens Kennie’s heart for the first time in years. Kennie’s emotions begin to bud, but then Lily’s girlfriend steps back onto the scene to nip that relationship before it can blossom. Kennie is thrown back into her protective shell and struggles to deal with her disappointment.

When things look bleakest for Kennie, Max, an abused teen, comes into Kennie’s life, and she finds herself in a nurturing role. Within this new role, Kennie shows both the reader and Lily the goodness of her soul. But will it be enough to win back Lily?

I don’t often get a chance to read f/f fiction, so this was a treat for me. Like Lovers Do is a well written, detailed study of loneliness and longing, and a potent lesson in the Karmic message that good things eventually rain down on good people, but only if they maintain their goodness through a period of drought. This story is heart-warming and uplifting, and what makes it so is the multi-layered depths of the characters Lori Lake has skillfully crafted. The author made me care about the characters, compelled me to pull for the protagonists and despise the antagonists.

There were several questions I had about the story that were never answered to my satisfaction. For instance, I never understood why Kennie kept the fact that she owned the building a secret from her tenants. It made no sense to me, and if it was explained, then I missed it. None of these types of questions kept me from enjoying the story, however.

Although there is a lot of story packed into these pages, the author does not hurry. The story moves at a leisurely, measured pace and offers enough detail to paint vivid pictures of each scene.

This is a story that will appeal not only to fans of f/f, but also to all readers who enjoy a heart-warming romance. I can highly recommend Like Lovers Do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 5 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #5:

Written by Alan Chin

I had confidently thought that once my debut novel, Island Song, had been signed with a publisher, even a small independent publisher like Zumaya Publications, I could relax and not worry about being the unknown quantity any more. I mean, I had a contract, and a soon-to-be a published book. Didn’t that raise me above the hordes of faceless, nameless writers who keep beating their heads against the wall? Shouldn’t that open doors previously closed to me? Shouldn’t that make people sit up and take notice? Ha! That should tell you how naive I was, not to mention full of myself. The term green as grass is no mere cliché.

I started my second novel, The Lonely War, before the ink had dried on that Zumaya Publications contract for my first novel. It took me roughly two years to write, edit and polish; yet it was finished long before Island Song was published. You see, Zumaya is a very small shop trying to publish twenty-five or more books per year. There were a few dozen books in the queue ahead of mine, and only one person to slog through the backlog of editing, preparing, organizing cover art, publishing, marketing, attracting new talent and writing checks. One of the hardest lessons to learn in indie publishing is that nothing happens quickly. Nothing.

My second manuscript, a gay love story that spans WWII, starts on a US Destroyer, moves to a Japanese POW camp (Changi), and ends in Japan after the war. I was aware at the time of writing that many readers are not interested in war historicals. But I felt compelled to make a statement about gays in the military, and this particular setting and time frame gave me exactly the set of circumstances I needed for my premise.

So armed with my two-year-old contract and a new manuscript, I began sending out query letters—about forty of them—to all the larger publishers, believing that they would take me seriously this time. As with my first novel, most of them merely ignored my letters. Some were kind enough to send a standard rejection note. As the rejection notices piled up, my confidence nosedived. Keep in mind I am an openly gay man writing uplifting stories about gay protagonists for a gay audience. That dramatically limited the number publishers and literary agents interested in handling my work.

In the end, I sent the manuscript to Zumaya Publications, knowing that it would be years before being published. They accepted the manuscript and sent a second contract.

Now I had two novels to be published. The first in mid 2008, the second in late 2009. Of course I would have preferred a larger, more prestigious publisher, but regardless I was thrilled about publishing two books and starting on a third—Match Maker.

At about the same time Zumaya began editing my Island Song manuscript, they also contracted with an artist to create the cover art. I sent some ideas to the artist, including a mockup of a cover my husband, Herman, had produced. As far as I was concerned, Herman’s mockup was a perfect cover. However what came back turned out to be, in my humble opinion, hideously ugly. I put my foot down, and I went back and forth for two weeks with the publisher trying to forge a better cover. At one point, the publisher told me they were cutting me out of the conversation. They had full rights to design whatever cover they deemed suitable, and I would make due with what they produced.

I can tell you with no hint of exaggeration that I simply loathed that original cover. It drove a wedge between me and my publisher that never really repaired itself. If I had not already signed that second contract, I would have not taken a chance on Zumaya again. I felt that strongly about it.

But soon after, I held my first published book in my hands. It was an amazing feeling that literally moved me to tears. A seed planted in 2001 finally gave fruit in late 2008. Even with that hideous cover, I loved it. And for the next year, I learned, not too successfully, the other side of the publishing coin—marketing.

But more about marketing in the next installment. For now, let me say that for I year I struggled to get my name out there so people would buy my book. When it came time for Zumaya Publications to produce my second novel, to my great surprise, they gave me a cover that I loved. Loved it then, and still do. I’m very proud of The Lonely War—both the story and the cover—and very grateful to Zumaya Publications for the superior job they did in publishing it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Writing Tip # 31 – Secrets

Secrets are at the heart of many plots. In fact, if you study nearly any romantic comedy, you’ll fine that all the comic situations are built on secrets or lies, usually both.

I have long believed that a good writer will allow his characters to keep secrets, and the secrets must be revealed before the end. But the question is when and why to reveal them.

Something that I learned in a screenwriting class is, the best way to disclose a secret is when disclosing is the lesser of two evils. That is: if a character reveals a secret, s/he will lose respect or love or something worse. But, if s/he doesn’t reveal the secret, then something far more devastating will happen.

So characters reveal secrets only when forced, to prevent something horrible from happening. A writer will do this to heighten the drama.

Also, by having secrets, the reader knows that the truth will eventually be found out. So by introducing these secrets early on, it keeps the reader in suspense of when the truth will be revealed, and what the fallout will be when that eventually happens.

Once a character withholds information, then the plot should twist the story so that the longer the character holds his/her secret, the more devastating the results will be when the information is finally exposed. It’s like a harmless little white lie that begins to build on itself, taking on bigger meaning and more damaging consequences until it will have a huge dramatic effect over everyone’s lives.

Like any literary device, characters keeping secrets is a powerful tool in the writer’s hands.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: Moffie by Andre Carl van der Merwe

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Europa Editions
Pages: 364

Like every gay boy in 1970s South Africa, Nicholas van der Swart must hide that part of himself that is different from other boys, especially from his father. Nicholas grew up fearing his tyrannical father, an abusive Afrikaner devoted to apartheid and all things manly. And Nick grew up being ashamed of himself, thinking he was an abomination against God.

Nick is conscripted into two years of mandatory army life when he turns nineteen years old. The military goes against everything Nick feels at his core. He is a pacifist, but the lure of freeing himself from an oppressive home life helps him cope with the reality of becoming a soldier fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in.

But Nick finds that the nightmare of living at home is nothing compared to the hell of boot camp. Within his company, he is labeled a Moffie (a queer), and his superiors stop at nothing to destroy him. At the same time, he makes three close friendships, and even falls in love. Nick finds that the one thing that is more terrible than the physical abuse he endures every day, is the mental torcher of not being able to tell his close buddies and the person he loves what he really feels for them. He must keep that secret locked deep in his heart, or risk being shipped off to a mental hospital for shock, drug and hormone treatments.

After boot camp, Nick and his friends are shipped to the boarder where South Africa is at war with Angolan terrorist. On the battlefield, Nick learns a valuable lesson: to not ask God to help him, but merely to put his life in God’s hands, become an instrument of the Almighty, and accept God’s will. Within the depths of this military torture, bloodshed and his new religious faith, Nick is able to acknowledge his homosexuality and come out to the men he cares for. His coming out somehow helps him find the strength to survive.

I found it hard to believe that Moffie is Andre Carl van der Merwe’s debut novel. This is a powerful, emotional, well-written gem. This author writes with all the polish of a seasoned professional.

The story grabbed my gut on page one and didn’t let go. It starts with the protagonist fighting a hopeless and heartbreaking home situation, then the reader watches Nick’s life disintegrate from there as he free-falls deeper and deeper into hell. The reader shares his anguish, and craves revenge against an unjust world. And just when it seems that Nick has reached the lowest level of purgatory, the reader realizes there are deeper regions yet to discover.

I did have two minor issues with this story. First, I felt the author relied too heavily on clichés. It starts with a rather cliché battle between a gay teenaged son and the hard stoic father who wants his boy to go into the service so they will make a man of him. The mother, of course, is overly protective—more cliché—followed by the company Sergeant who takes a disliking to the hero and tries to break him. It’s all been done so many times before.

My second issue is that sprinkled throughout the storyline are numerous flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood to demonstrate the battles and hardships of his development. I felt most of these flashbacks added little or nothing to the story, and were a distraction to the main storyline.

Both of these issues are easily overlooked. This is a tale of survival, of love, and of finding the light of courage when the world is pitch black. The story is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a pleasant beach read, then keep looking. Moffie is a gritty, brutal, poignant, gut-twisting read, and the reader will surely feel a euphoric sense of accomplishment upon completing that last chapter as the writer skillfully lifts the reader back into the light.

This is a somber drama that I thoroughly enjoyed, and can highly recommend to serious readers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Will & Jay shorts by Alan Barker

I have posted anything from my friend Alan Barker in quite some time. He's been rather busy. Yesterday, however, I received three more Will and Jay short/short stories. So, for your amusement, here are three more Will & Jay shorts. Chill and enjoy for a moment or three.

Easy Rider

"Gives me a real buzz racing on this new Grand Prix circuit," boasted Will to his partner Jay anxiously waiting at the finishing line, "and I didn't leave the track once."

"Well done you, considering last week you left the final bend at top speed, collided with the table leg, disappeared under the plasma screen and only stopped after you scattered by entire CD collection," teased Jay, "and mate that is no way to treat my Scalextric racers."

A Tall Story

"It's so cool Will, at this height you can see a bride and groom being photographed on the church steps, crowds of passengers waiting for the steam drawn special just entering the station and even Police diverting the traffic from a serious accident on that roundabout," said Jay excitedly pointing in all directions.

"Careful where you walk Jay the Giant," teased Will, " you always start acting your trainer size whenever we visit this model village."

and finally...


"The enemy man o'war is approaching on the starboard side, so men prepare to fire on the count of 3, 1...2...3...Fire!" commanded Captain Jay as he felt his whole body shudder from the intensity of the close action.

"Wake up Captain Dreamboat," shouted Will to his partner having been pushed out of bed, "I don't know which part of my body you grabbed hold off to repel the enemy, but if it happens again shipmate, you'll not only get a right broadside from me, I'll order bunk beds!"

Monday, August 15, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 4 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #4:

Written by Alan Chin

In 2001, having retired from the corporate world with a little nest egg to keep me from starving, I now had the time, the energy, the ambition, and an idea for a story. How hard could it be? I mean, I had an advanced degree in writing from a prestigious university for Pete’s sake. It was solely a matter of making myself sit at the computer for three hours each day and type until my fingers bled, pounding out words to form sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, then chapters until I typed “The End”. How simple can it get? At least that’s how my husband sees it.

I first sketched out a high-level outline, mostly to get my head around the whole story. I made notes about where the main plot points would take place, and then began forming impressions of the main characters. As I said in an earlier post, Island Song was a story about homophobia, gay bashing, and fighting back. But it had to be more. It had to have a subtext of Buddhist ideals, which of course means passivism. That became the trick, to write about hate and vicious beatings, yet have an underlying message of passivism. And to do that, I knew up front I needed a special blend of characters, so I created four detailed character sketches for the main characters to insure they had the attributes the story needed from them.

Once I had the high-level outline and the character sketches in hand, I started the manuscript. From the outline, I knew all the drama would come to a head in a barroom brawl between the protagonist and several homophobic bashers. So I started the manuscript by writing a line of dialog in that climax scene:

Garrett said, “When you tell your friends about this, be sure to let them know it was Tinkerbell, a fairy, a fucking faggot, that kicked your ass and had you sucking up your own puke.”

In the years of rewriting and editing, this one line never changed. It was a stake in the ground of where the story was headed, a lighthouse beacon guiding me to the safe harbor. Once I had that one line, I went back to the beginning and wrote the first draft chronologically. It took me about a year.

That first draft took so long because once the characters were put on the page, they began to flower, to expand, to change, and finally to have a will of their own. I experienced a remarkable process where the characters, all of them, came to life in my mind. At first I simply thought they were interesting vehicles to tell my story. But then I began to relate to them as actual people and had ongoing dialogs with them. Then I slowly fell in love with them. As my knowledge of their personalities deepened, so did my love for them. So as these characters changed in my mind, I was forced to go back to the beginning and change the story to better fit my characters. And the funny thing was, that as I fell in love with Garrett and Song and Grandfather and Hap, the focus of the story changed from gay bashing to love, and I’m talking more than m/m romance. I mean love of family, love of place, love of culture, even the simple love of waking in the morning and being excited about the day. It turned into a collage of love on every level.

But at long last I did complete the story. I was so excited by the final product that I rushed through two rounds of edits, had a few friends proof read it, and then I sent out query letters to every publisher and literary agent who handled LGBT themed books. Now came the tough part: one rejection letter after another. Six months of rejections deflates the ego to a pancake. I knew the story was a good one. I really believed in it, so I assumed I had written it poorly. I went back to work, editing.

I rewrote the whole manuscript, focusing on language and voice. Again, I had friends proofread it, and sent out another round of query letters, only to get another six months of rejections. I thought about giving up or self publishing, but as I say, I really believed in the story.

In desperation, I purchased a book called, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman described how most publishers and people in the business only read the first few pages looking for style and a good hook. If you don’t impress them by page five, your manuscript goes in the trash. Lukeman went on to tell what publishers are looking for, and what turns them off—things like passive voice, over reliance on adverbs and adjectives, showing verses telling, tone, and style. Lukeman recommended that you go through the first five pages and clean them up using his writing tips. I edited all three hundred pages using his tips as a guide. That book, more than any other, taught me the kind of writing techniques that get your foot in the door of a publisher.

After completing a third major rewrite over a period of three years, I sent out a dozen query letters to some of the smaller publishers I had already approached. Again, the rejections came flowing back. I finally gave up on Island Song, but I didn’t give up on writing. I started a new novel, a WWII historical novel entitled The Lonely War.

A few months later, I was visiting some friends in Southern California. There was a small party going on and we were all crammed into the kitchen drinking coffee and eating cookies. I pulled out my laptop and checked my email. There was a note from Zumaya Publications, a small publisher in Texas, telling me that if the Island Song manuscript was still available, they were willing to publish it. They attached a signed contract to the email. I let out a scream as I leaped off my chair. It scared the hell out of everybody in the house. They were all mad and thrilled for me at the same time. That was a turning point for me, but the battle was far from over.

More to come.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Writing Tip #30 – Active vs. Passive Voice

With active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb; a direct action. Sentences with active verbs are generally clearer, more direct, and more concise.

With passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Who performs the action may appear in a “by the...” phrase or may be omitted. Passive voice always includes a form of to be, such as am, is, was, were, are, been, or of course, to be in the verb construction. Overuse of passive verbs is often overly wordy, flat, and slows the pacing.

Active voice: The dog bit the girl.
Passive: The girl was bitten by the dog.

Active: Alan will submit his manuscript to the publisher.
Passive: The manuscript will be submitted to the publisher by Alan.

Active: Scientists have conducted experiments to test the theory.
Passive: Experiments were conducted by scientists to test the theory.

Rules of thumb
To avoid overuse of passive voice, I do a search on the word ‘was’ if writing in past tense and ‘is’ when writing in present tense. I try to limit the number of times I use these passive voice words to three per page.

What is really confusing is when a writer starts a sentence I in active voice, then changes to passive, as in: Many regular customers found the coffee too weak to enjoy, but it was still ordered frequently. Edited: Many customers found the coffee too weak to enjoy, but they still ordered it frequently.

Changing passive voice to active voice
To change voice from passive to active, consider who or what is performing the action. Make that who or what the subject of the sentence and change the verb accordingly.

Passive: The movie is being reviewed by every reviewer.
Active voice: Every reviewer is reviewing the movie.

Using passive voice effectively
The passive voice is effective when the subject performing the action is obvious, unimportant, or unknown or when a writer wishes to postpone mentioning the subject until the last part of the sentence or to avoid mentioning the subject at all, thus highlighting the action rather than who performs it.

Active: “Authorities make rules to be broken,” he said defiantly.
Passive: “Rules are made to be broken,” he said defiantly.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is That The Best The GOP Can Do?

I don’t often write about politics on this blog, but the other night I watched the first 2011 GOP debate to get a feel for the Republican field, and I was sorely unimpressed.

Not that I would vote Republican no matter who they nominate, that will never happen again. After George W., Dick Cheney and the Republican party bent this country over and screwed us from behind with the rough end of a pineapple for eight long years, they have lost my vote forever.

But I must admit I was hoping that they would present one or two candidates that would say something more than the same, unenlightened sound bites geared to the rightwing bigots. I kept thinking: is this the best the GOP can offer up?

I am reminded that in The Republic, Plato makes a sound argument that democracy is not the best form of government for the simple reason that people tend to vote for people like themselves. And that is a huge problem that we are seeing played out on our national stage. The vast majority of Americans get by with a minimum level of intelligence. Most seldom read, many don’t read another book after they bail out of high school. So these intellectually handicapped individuals end up supporting intellectually handicapped politicians. In this last decade alone, millions of Americans supported George W. and Dick C. twice! TWICE! And 25% still support Sara Palin. I rest my case.

The point is, we need a system that promotes the most intelligent people in our society to step up and guide the rest of us, rather than the mediocre masses electing mediocre candidates. I’m a simple man without an answer to this issue, but I am bright enough to know we can produce better leaders than what I witnessed the other night. The question is, will we before it is too late to turn this country around?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review: Rite of Passage by Bryl R. Tyne

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 80

John Ashley Price is a celebrity author who has gone into hiding to escape the constant hounding from paparazzi and fans. He wants to become an island unto himself where he can write in peace and not have a soul in the world who knows who or what he is. His publisher, Carol, finds him the perfect getaway within the forested mountains of Colorado—a hick town named Divide.

Alone at his mountain retreat, John finds that his constant companion, extreme anxiety, refuses to leave him in peace. He must still take a regiment of pills to control his mood swings, and he finds he has a merciless case of writer’s block. On top of all that, he finds his cabin is not as remote as he anticipated. There is a neighbor within a stone’s throw, and the neighbor turns out to be just the kind of man that twirls John’s skirt—Mid-twenties, handsome, muscular, a silent cowboy type.

To pass the time and to do research for his next novel, John volunteers his time to help out at the local wild animal clinic. He does odd jobs but his real purpose is to research wolves and their habitat. What he finds instead is that he is being studied by the clinic foreman, Pat Smith. Then a series of strange coincidences unravel John’s new world, beginning with John discovering that Pat is in fact his sexy neighbor. John soon realizes there is some kind of plot afoot, but what could it be?

This story is a fun, romantic romp that had me smiling throughout and often laughing out loud. Neither the story nor the characters are overly complex, but it doesn’t matter. This is a fast paced, delightfully sexy tale.

What I loved most was the voice the author was able to capture and maintain. It has a Western twang, rough around the edges, yet reads smooth as silk. It described even mundane things in the most humorous ways. This is a funny story, without being slapstick or stupid, and yes, there is enough romance to warm your heart and enough sex to get your blood pumping.

Admittedly, there is no mystery here. The plot was pretty clear early on, but again it doesn’t matter. It is the delivery that makes this a fun and sexy read. Bryl R. Tyne is a huge talent. I can highly recommend this novella to all readers.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 3 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #3:

Written by Alan Chin

It took a span of ten years after I received my Masters in Writing diploma before I started working on what would become my first published novel. You see, by the time I earned my degree, I had been promoted again to a much more taxing position. I worked a high pay, high stress, long-hour management job. My department was responsible for some of the most complex, big-budget computer projects in our brokerage firm. At the end of the day, at the end of the week, I had nothing left to give to my craft of writing. My job was all consuming, a black hole for my time, energy, and one sixteen-year relationship.

But by the end of the decade, I had accumulated enough company stock to live a frugal life without the overcaffeinated, sixty-hour-week career. So on April 1st of 1999, I happily skipped out of Charles Schwab & Co. for the last time. I will forever be grateful to Chuck Schwab, the company, and the people who work there, but I never want to see them again.

My partner, Herman, and I spent two years traveling the globe, visiting over forty-five destinations. We scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea, tracked black rhino in the Serengeti, hiked over mountain trails in Nepal and Tibet, and dined in most of the capitals of Asia and Europe. It was during these travels that I began to write again, keeping a journal, which led to dreaming of completing a novel. I struggled to find a topic I cared about. I was not content to simply write some cliché romance story. It had to be good and it had to say something about me, about my view of the world. But nothing substantial came to mind.

Then, while enjoying a few weeks on a beach in southern Thailand, I read a book that changed my life—Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian. For the first time, I read a brilliant book of fiction where the author intricately wove Buddhist philosophy into the storyline (did I mention that I am a Buddhist?). The book presented everything I felt in my core, but did so seamlessly with the actions and dialog of his characters. Beneath the characters and plot, lay a subtext with a very profound message. At some point toward the end of that book a switch clicked on in my head, and I knew I wanted to write, had to write, my own novel with a similar subtext.

I picked through the short stories I had written in college a decade earlier and found a story I had written about gay bashing, and about fighting back. It was a story of outrage that I wrote after hearing of a murder trial in Phoenix, Arizona. You see, four high school students had pled guilty to beating a fellow student to death, simply because he was gay. All four bashers were on the school football team, and the judge let the boys off with six years probation, because he felt they were fine, upstanding athletes.

The rage I still felt ten years later drove me to pick up this short story and begin crafting a longer work about homophobia, gay bashing, and fighting back. I wanted desperately for my gay characters to pitilessly kick some basher’s ass. But it had to be more. It had to have a subtext of Buddhist ideals, which of course means passivism. That became the trick, to write about hate, vicious beatings, yet have an underlying message of passivism.

I believe I accomplished my goal, but you will need to read my first published novel, Island Song, in order to find out how. The novel took me two years to write, and another year to rewrite after fifty literary agents and publishers had turned the book down. But more about that in my next installment.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: The Abode of Bliss by Alex Jeffers

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: 265

In a series of ten remarkable short stories, Ziya explains his erotic journey into manhood to Adam, the man Ziya loves. Raised in cosmopolitan Istanbul, Ziya is immersed in his Muslim family and traditions, yet he harbors a secret that goes against everything he knows. He is gay. His mother understands, and arranges for Ziya to attend college in the United States, where he will enjoy an easier time of being accepted and be free to live his life without pressure from family or religion.

Ziya’s journey takes him from Istanbul, through Europe, and finally to Boston where he tries to assimilate a new lifestyle, yet, he keeps being drawn back into his culture. This is a long and beautiful journey. Along the way Ziya encounters old friends, surprises from family members, one-night stands, rape, weddings and bashings and deaths, and in the end a chance meeting.

These ten stories are told in chronological order and build on each other, making this book read like a novel. This is nearly a perfect read. What struck me most was the intricate detail of a young, Muslim man’s life in Turkey, and how cultural pressures make it difficult to assimilate to life in the U.S. But this is more than a story of culture clash. It is an in-depth study of a young man’s sexual education, which delves deeply into his being. Alex Jeffers lavishes exhaustive detail onto the page, uncovering layer after layer of both the characters and the culture, yet with such beautifully crafted prose that it is a pleasure—an exquisite dream you don’t want to wake from—rather than being tedious.

The pace of Ziya’s introspective excursion toward his sexuality is slow and concise. As Ziya ponders his attitudes, so does the reader. This is a book that makes the reader examine his/her own values as Ziya examines his. It makes you think, scrutinize, weigh. This is not a light romp for lazy readers who merely want to be entertained. It is not a book for everyone. It is a detailed study of an inner journey of one man that spans multiple countries and cultures. I suspect readers will either love it or be bored to tears. As you can tell, I loved it.

I’ve long believed that Alex Jeffers is a remarkable talent. I regard The Abode of Bliss as his most impressive work to date. This is a book I will read, savor, again and again. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves finely crafted prose, lush descriptions and gratifyingly deep characters.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

JMS Books LLC Call for Submissions

JMS Books LLC is a small queer press specializing in GLBT erotica, romance, and young adult fiction.

We release 3 e-books a week and 4 print titles a month. All books are available electronically, and any title over 30,000 words goes into print. While we don't pay advances, we do pay authors 50% net on royalties from all sales. We sell through our own website as well as a wide distribution network to ensure we reach the largest audience possible.

Full submission guidelines are available on our website <> .

We are seeking queer, genre, and literary stories at least 5k and no longer than 100k in length. Reprints are accepted. We are particularly interested in GAY, LESBIAN, and TRANSGENDER stories in the following genres:

* Action/Adventure
* Contemporary
* Fantasy
* Futuristic
* Historical
* Horror
* Humor/Parody
* Interracial
* Military/War
* Mystery/Detective
* Paranormal
* Science Fiction
* Western/Cowboy
* Young Adult – stories aimed at readers aged 14 and up

We do not accept submissions of extreme BDSM, incest, or heterosexual, bisexual, or intergender menage erotica.

Submission Policy:

* Electronic unsolicited submissions are accepted at any time.
* We do not accept multiple or simultaneous submissions.
* Submissions should include a QUERY LETTER, full SYNOPSIS, and 2,000 word EXCERPT in RTF format.
* Submissions are acknowledged within 2 business days.
* If we like your submission, we will request a copy of the full manuscript for review. Manuscripts must be in electronic format only.
The review time is between 1-3 weeks.

Contract terms:

* Authors earn 50% net royalties on all sales (e-book and paperback) from all distributors.
* Contracts are for a period of 2 years and auto-renew annually.
* We require exclusive electronic and print rights, but can negotiate if the story has been published in an anthology or collection.

Full submission guidelines are available on our website.

J.M. Snyder

A Queer Small Press

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 2 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #2:

Written by Alan Chin

My years attending the University of San Francisco, working toward a Masters in Writing degree were both amazing and frustrating.

The frustration came in two flavors. The first was that I was struggling with a fulltime management job that often stretched into sixty-hour weeks. Heap on another thirty hours of classroom and homework, and there was no time for any social activities. Yes, I went almost two years without any kind of social life outside of work and classroom. For a man in the prime of life, that was a difficult sacrifice.

The second frustration was that I attended each class with the same group of students—about twenty of us as I recall—and I was the only gay student. All my writing for classwork was focused on my experiences as a gay man, highlighting issues with family and my job from a gay perspective. The other students were not openly hostile, but none were supportive. Other students would present their work, and the class would gush out praise no matter how mediocre the writing. I would present my work to a wall of silence. Often, there would be not a single comment (keep in mind this was back in the early nineties.) The only encouragement I received came from the instructors, who focused on structure and writing and flow, rather than content.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but being snubbed by my fellow students actually helped my writing. I was so intent on rattling their cages, that I struggled to become one of the better writers in the class. I was out to impress them all as a way to rub their bigotry in their faces. I freely admit now that my attitude was infantile, but I believe it did help me to take my writing more seriously.

Fortunately, there were amazing rewards as well. Writing gave me a creative outlet to dig deep into my being and analyze my life’s issues, then present them in a fictitious environment and with made-up characters. I fell in love with that process, which is a form of self-discovery. At that time in my life I held a great deal of rage inside, tying my gut in knots. For me, writing turned into a vehicle to both recognize and work through what I believed to be the injustices in my life.

You see, even today, every character I write about is an extension of me, and each character in my stories deal with problems that I struggle with myself. I believe all art is a form of self-discovery, and having tread down this path for so many years, I’ve come to feel that self-discovery is the most important thing a person can do in life.

A good novel, like life, is a journey for the writer and the reader, not to a destination, but of transformation. As the characters in the novel transform, so do the reader and writer.

So yes my college years were challenging, often overwhelming, but it was also a time of wonder as I delved into that grey matter between my ears and listened to the chaotic sounds my being sang. It was like learning to meditate for the first time, to open myself up to the universe and begin to understand my role in this incredible thing we call life.