Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Captain Harding’s Six-Day War by Elliott Mackle

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: 248

In 1967, Captain Harding is working his way up the promotion ladder within the U.S. Air Force. He’s a go-getter with a head on his shoulders and a talent for fixing problems. He is also gay.

The story begins with Captain Harding arriving at his new assignment, the post of executive officer for Wheelus Air Base in Libya. It’s a bit of a disappointment for Harding, who knows that he needs a tour in Viet Nam on his record before his next promotion will be approved. His mood takes a nosedive when he realizes his real assignment is baby-sitting the base wing commander, a loose-cannon named Colonel Adger. Harding is stuck taking care of administrative details while Adger constantly flies off to play golf with the bigwigs.

Captain Harding is on base for less than a week before he is bedding and enlisted medic and a rather studly major. Harding makes it clear that he likes to play the field, and is not the type of man to fall in love and be monogamous. And play the field he does, including going to a private party that turns into an all male orgy where he is the center of everyone’s attentions.

During his sexual adventures, he also strikes up a friendship with the American ambassador’s sixteen-year-old son. The two form an instant crush on each other, and Harding must wrestle with the ethical aspects of forming a relationship with a minor. The more his strong moral sense fights the idea, the deeper he falls for this lovely, precocious kid.

While dealing with a series of misadventures—including the murder of a gay serviceman, a flight-surgeon’s drug abuse, the death of his former lover in Viet Nam, and trying to protect a woman accused of being a lesbian because she refused to have sex with her superior officers—Harding must constantly protect himself from being exposed as a gay man. Three officers suspect him, and they attempt to out him at every turn.

In the run-up to Israel’s Six-Day War, a mob attacks the embassy in Tripoli, which takes Harding’s boss, Colonel Adger, over the edge and into madness. He steals a fighter jet and sets out to attack an Arab warship in order to force America into the war. To bring the colonel back safely and keep America out of the war, Harding must out himself while talking the colonel back to base. But can he do that? Can he throw his career away in order to save a man he loathes?

This is a rather compelling book that I have mixed feelings about. It is extremely well written, perfectly structured, and moves at a fast, exciting pace. Mackle captures a brusque voice that suits this military setting perfectly. There is conflict at every turn, and also tender moments.

Yet, I more than once felt I was being set up for something that the story failed to deliver. For instance: the opening pages describe the brutal murder of a young airman who was suspected of being gay. This seemed the perfect hook for a murder mystery, right? But then the story moves on and nothing else is said about the murder until the last twenty pages. I found it rather strange that a book that starts in such a way, simply drops that topic. There is no mention of an investigation, the resolution, nothing.

Then Harding’s last commanding officer, which Harding had some sort of sexual three-way relationship with, sends Harding a note threatening to expose the Captain. However, after the note, it also was dropped and nothing was done to deliver on the promise.

Lastly, the setting itself promised something grand, the Middle East leading up to the Six-Day War. I expected a rather smart, political thriller. Yet, the story focused on Harding’s sexual exploits and his efforts to keep them secret, along with his realization of deeper feelings for that special someone. I felt a bit disappointed that there were only a dozen or so pages that really delved into the war tensions.

Still, this is a compelling read. It is a very sexy story of finding love in the most unusual of places, and also a tale of battling bigotry to save yourself. The author does a brilliant job of defining the protagonists/antagonists. This is definitely a them-verses-us type story, and no matter how little or how much the reader likes Harding’s character, s/he cannot help but pull for him all the way to the last page.

The ending is a bit open ended, and very satisfying. This is a story that I can highly recommend.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Lonely War

I was editing my second novel today, preparing it for republication with Dreamspinner Press. I was moved by the following passage and wanted to share. The following, then, is an excerpt from my novel, The Lonely War.

December 24th, 1944 - 1000 hours
Each day the number of POWs diminished. The prisoners conducted their morning ritual of checking their comrades who were unable to rise from their bunks. A man who could stand with help had five days to live; if he sat up but couldn’t stand, he had three days; if he couldn’t rise at all, he'd be gone by the next sunrise.

Andrew worked the burial detail, hauling the bodies onto carts for the long march out the gates, digging new graves beside the old ones, listening to the soulful words of Chaplain Moyer. He buried them all the same, captains and corporals, foot soldiers and orderlies, undistinguishable and anonymous. Mass graves were the final humiliation. Emaciated limbs became confused and tangled, fleshless faces pressed cheek to cheek, bodies huddled together as if seeking warmth, and the black dirt to absorb their souls, transforming their lost youth into fertile earth. That became the crude face of war. Not the stratagem of politics manipulated by leaders of nations or the chess game of generals played miles from the battlefields, war is the tragic and anonymous deaths of human beings whose seeds are lost forever.

The astonishment of being a survivor pressed on Andrew. Beriberi, dysentery, malaria, starvation, and suicide had swallowed a weighty toll over two and a half years. With each burial detail Andrew's sense of guilt deepened. Guilt was by far his most cumbrous burden. The miraculous events that shepherded him under Tottori's care were all that had kept him alive to bury the less fortunate. While handling the bodies, he felt utterly grateful for his good fortune, and at the same time, outraged.

The bodies had begun to whisper to him as he stacked them in the pits. Hideous, mournful, accusing rasps called to him. Even when he piled on the dirt—covering those gaping mouths, staring eyes, frozen facial expressions—the sound still filtered through, drumming in his ears. He threw himself into the digging and soon his exhaustion numbed his mind. It was the only way to silence the dead.

After a brief service, Andrew shuffled to Hut Twenty-nine to wait. Prison was waiting—for sunrise when you could not sleep, for chow when your stomach ached, for the hot part of the day to pass, for your hands to stop trembling from the horror of handling the dead, for a bath to wash away death's stench, for Tottori's sensuous caresses.

Andrew never thought beyond the next goal he waited for. The passing years had become an orderless jumble. The notion of time no longer existed. His only measure of time's passing was the accumulation of whispering corpses in the black dirt.

The sky opened up with a late morning shower. Water dripped from thatch roofs and gathered in storm ditches. Dust turned to slippery goop, but that didn’t stop Andrew from rushing to his bunk. He dropped his shoulder bag and removed his sarong before dashing out the doorway to have his nakedness enveloped by the rain's fleeting coolness. His body welcomed the stinging drops as he performed the fastidious movements of tai chi.

The reek of death seeped away. His mind soared beyond the voices in his head, lifting, lifting, until he floated above the clouds as his earth-bound body achieved one elegant position after another.

By the time the sun had brushed away the clouds, painting the sky blue, his mood had turned serene. The voices retreated. Returning to his bunk he took up Jah-Jai and played a soulful tune.

Only a few men were in the hut. John Allard was giving Kelso a haircut. Nash and Banks sat at a wooden table playing acey-deucy. Cord and Smitty played the food game. It had become a popular pastime where prisoners tried to out-torture one another.

Cord closed his eyes and his voice carried a note of rapture. “Pastrami and Swiss cheese on toasted rye bread with plenty of mustard and an icy beer to wash it down.”

Smitty groaned. “Mama's ravioli with three kinds of cheese and a bottle of Chianti.” He smacked his lips while Cord twisted in agony.

“Cold sliced peaches with gobs of whipped cream on top.”

Kelso shouted down the hut, “Shut the fuck up until after lunch, for God sakes.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review: Kaleidoscope by Anel Viz

Publisher: Silver Publishing: ISBN: 9781920501037
Reviewer: Victor J. Banis
4.75 stars out of 5.

Blurb: In these seven stories, the author explores people's shifting views of each other, of the images they project, and of themselves. Individuals fragment, the pieces fall into ever-changing patterns like bright confetti in the base of a kaleidoscope, and our ideas about sexuality color what we see.

My review:
This is an utterly unique – I can say without hesitation “fascinating”-- collection of stories and anecdotes, like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. It is certainly beautifully written and on the surface, at least, written with a great deal of insight into human behavior – but with a disclaimer in the author’s preface, in which he states that “We never truly know another person; we do not truly understand ourselves.” What the author presents here, then, is a never entirely reliable and often changing look at various situations in which various people find themselves, but, he warns us, “None of them are omniscient.” So, this collection is not about some vague “truth,” but rather about perceptions, and these changing perceptions are the kaleidoscope of his title. And the insights may not be insights at all, but erroneous perceptions.

It is both an intriguing conceit and at the same time somewhat distancing. When George, in Polygon, says, “No man would ever talk about the intimate details of his marriage bed with his buddies” which is patently untrue, since men do this all the time, is the author wrong? Or George? Or, maybe just this perception? Nothing, here, is necessarily what it seems – or, if I understand correctly, necessarily not what it seems either.

Well, there are worse sins for an author than ambiguity – Hamlet, anyone? Certainly the stories are thought provoking. And libido provoking as well. There is nothing, really, in the way of raw sexuality and yet sex permeates everything, either in its presence, or in its absence – although we’re not always quite sure if it is present—or absent. Still, these tales are, I should say, as much about sex in its various permutations, as they are about anything. But, sex in many different lights.

It’s worth mentioning that the author covers a lot of ground age-wise, too—teens and high school grads and seniors, and pretty much everything in between. Same with gender and (at least perceived) sexual orientation. It seems, when one has finished, that there must be more than the seven stories the volume includes, but no, only seven, just with much to say.

Proteus is about a gay college professor in his late sixties, and a handsome young student who, we realize gradually, likes older men and is trying very hard to come on to him—but the prof insistently rebuffs the young man’s advances—he doesn’t like younger men and he’s not interested. He says. But, what to make of this passage, which hardly exemplifies disinterest: With Bramson sitting almost directly in front of him, Edmund had a ringside view of the boy and his assets. His legs were a definite asset, muscular and shapely, his thighs big enough so the gym shorts dug into them when he bent his knees. They were looser around his hips, so his endowment did not fill them, but Edmund guessed it was fairly generous. The tank top hugged his upper body, outlining his pecs and nipples, and sometimes it rode up so you could see his navel. The muscles in his arms were very hard, and the hair in his armpits and what little he had on his arms and legs as blond as the hair on his head.
I found this story perhaps the most erotically charged of the collection.

In Roomies (this one more a collection of anecdotes than a story), two of the three young men who share a condo, Marty the swish and Denny the butch, go camping together:
Both felt that they shouldn't have sex; both wanted to. Marty was mostly concerned that if they did it would put a strain on their easy relationship back at the condo, not that there was much chance of them becoming lovers and Art ending up left out. Denny was too promiscuous for that. Anyway, Art had a boyfriend. Denny, on the other hand, was afraid that it would leave him feeling unsatisfied since he would want to flip-flop and Marty, a committed bottom, wouldn't.

Which seems straightforward enough—except that the author has already told us that this narrator, like all the others in the book, isn’t omniscient—this is just his take on things. Which is to say, maybe the boys did, and maybe they didn’t. How would he know? Just as in the real world, what happens and what someone tells you happened may not be the same thing.

In Photographic Memories, Tanner was seen leaving a bar with the man who supposedly murdered him. With his photographic memory, Kyle, who saw them leave together, would seem to be the perfect witness—except he isn’t sure if he saw the accused, or someone he knew from his own past. Those perceptions again.

Facing the Music offers us Joe and Max, who more or less stumble into a sexual relationship which quickly gets them in trouble with their homophobic church, and they are sent to a reindoctrination camp intended to make heterosexuals of them. It maybe works. Or maybe it doesn’t.

In Kevvy, we get, Rashomon style, three different versions of the same story about a trio of teens, mostly leading up to gay Kevin giving straight Arthur a blow job, seemingly at Arthur’s insistence. As the author puts it in his preface, “None of the versions of "Kevvy" is entirely accurate however, (Kevin's may have been, but we hear it from Cole, who editorializes heavily)”
Robbie, in Since the Reunion, is perceived by some as straight, by others as bi – and his own perception of himself varies—but, as the author points out, he may be as reluctant to reveal his true sexuality to the reader as he is to the two friends in the story.

So, what on earth is one to make of this? Comic Brother Dave Gardner was wont to say, “don’t tell me your doubts, I have enough doubts of my own, tell me something you believe.” There isn’t much here to believe, it seems. What is there to grab hold of, to anchor one to these people, their adventures? Maybe nothing. Which of course is entirely true to life.

The author is right in his premise that the ambiguity in these pieces reflects real life – it is true, we never really know ourselves, let alone one another. But the best writing—the best in any art—doesn’t merely mimic life, but illuminates it. Art is a mirror that we hold up to ourselves, in the hope that we will see ourselves in a different light—as when walking down a street, we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a store window, and both recognize ourselves, and see ourselves differently. Good writing, the best writing, functions as that store window.

Do I see myself in these windows? I see a lot of questions (is that really me?) mostly without answers, or where there seem to be answers, they quickly morph into another question.
Or maybe, the author is suggesting, the question is the answer?

Still, I found this collection intriguing and intelligent, and savored it mightily. Like everything else I’ve read from this author, it’s refreshingly different and I came away from it after two readings (and I suspect there will be many more) with much food for thought and with my sense of how things are somewhat roiled—which may have been exactly what the author intended. This is not—nor do I suppose it was intended to be—for everyone, but for the reader of a certain discernment, it affords considerable pleasure, if mostly of a reflective kind.

One thing cannot be disputed, however: the author’s prose is elegant beyond reproach, as clear and dry—and as bracing—as a good martini – which, perhaps, is the apt metaphor with which to end this review—I found myself shaken, not stirred.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My $0.02 on book reviews

I am a member of several online groups for writers. In the last few months I’ve noticed many published writers obsessing over what they perceived as bad reviews of their books. Invariably, most of these reviews are posted on, a site where anybody with a keyboard can voice their opinions.

Being both a published writer and a reviewer, I have mixed feelings. Like most writers, I hate some reviewer saying anything negative about my books, simply because my work is a reflection of my inner self, and I’ve never been one who enjoys criticism. But I also understand that when I do put my work out there, it becomes something larger than ‘my work’. The story, the words, the message all do a dance with the reader, and depending upon the reader’s life experiences, that dance will be different from anything I ever imagined. That is the beauty of literature. Unlike movies (where you are spoon fed everything) a book is unique for each reader because each reader will interpret the words differently, depending on their own life experiences. And that is wonderful. The reader makes the story his/her own.

That said, there are many people in the world who focus on what they perceive as negative and overlook the positive, they read something that touches a raw nerve and they attack. There are also readers, perhaps most, who have no clue about what constitutes well-structured literature. They don’t know a three-act structure from a character arc. And that is fine; they don’t need to know. The point I’m inching toward is, there are tons of uninformed readers who are happy to spout their uneducated opinions, not only on but online review sites, and they are free to do that. But why get upset when they do?

In my four years of being published, I’ve come across only a handful of writers and reviewers whose opinions I respect, because they have demonstrated a depth of knowledge in the field of literature. When they criticize my work, which they have, I pay attention. I learn from them, and I am grateful for their feedback. All these other reviewers don’t affect me. I know that my work will not please everyone, and I’m cool with that.

I’ve come to think that what’s important is not trying to impress readers or reviewers, even the reviewers I respect. When a writer does that, the work ends up being insincere. I believe it is far more important, at least for me, to please myself. If I can be true to me and accurately express my inner vision, then at least one person will be happy with my work.

As for the idea that a few negative reviews will chase buyers away from my books, evidence supports the opposite. Even bad reviews will spur a reader to purchase a book. According to articles I’ve read, it is not so much what the reviews had to say, but more a factor of how many times the reader sees a mention of the book. The magic number seems to be seven. A book pops up on a reader’s radar seven times, no matter what was said, and that reader is likely to buy that book. Go figure. I suppose that’s why TV advertisers flood the airwaves with the same damn commercials hour after hour, day after day.

So my advice to writers is be happy readers feel strongly enough to write anything about your work. Then go back to your desk and focus on the business of writing your next story in the best way you know how. Make it so damned good that you, at least, will know it’s the finest work you can do.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: The Third Buddha by Jameson Currier

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 322

Ted Bridges, a twenty-something law student, drops out of school and moves to New York to look for his brother, Phillip (“Pup”) who disappeared the day the World Trade Center towers fell. Ted moves into Pup’s Chelsea apartment and tries to piece together his dead brother’s life. Both brothers are gay, but very different. Pup was out and loved to socialize, loved being gay. Ted is closeted and has had little to no sexual experience with other men. Through the process of living in his brother’s shadow, what starts as a search for his brother turns into a search for his own sexual identity. Learning about his sibling and what it means to be gay through Pup’s friends and ex-lovers, Ted, over a period of several months, becomes his own man living a gay lifestyle.

Half a world away in a different decade, two international journalists, Ari and Jim, travel in Afghanistan. They are separated after their vehicle explodes from a roadside bomb. Ari awakes with no memory. He is taken in by hill-tribe Muslims and, for a time, becomes one of them. Jim recovers in an army hospital, and later pulls strings in order to travel back into dangerous Taliban controlled Afghanistan to find his lover, Ari.

These are two very dissimilar stories, both about searching for a loved one, but still very different in character and nature. Ted’s story is told in first person, Ari and Jim’s story is told in third person. These tales are very loosely linked by a few minor characters who live in New York, friends of Pup.

Many stories I’ve read that swing between two or more different plots has one story that intrigues me, and the other doesn’t. The Third Buddha was no exception to this rule. I found Ted’s search to be poignant and fascinating. I felt his pain and confusion, and was pulling for him all the way through his wonderfully convincing character arc.

Jim and Ari’s story I found flat, overly predictable, and often tedious. Currier did a marvelous job of creating a realistic environment of war-torn Afghanistan, and the writing was certainly accomplished, but the author keeps the reader from getting too close to his characters in this part of the book. Currier constantly switches between Jim’s adventures, to Ari’s hardships, to flashbacks of their relationship before being separated (way too many flashbacks for my tastes). This constant fractured storytelling became frustrating. It felt to me like I was following the story from an altitude of ten-thousand feet when I wanted to be right there on the ground. It simply didn’t have the same intensity as Ted’s search for Pup. And the fact that it took no guesswork to figure out exactly what would happen didn’t help.

The title, “The third Buddha” refers to an archeological site in Afghanistan where scientists search for a giant statue of the Buddha. It is near this site where tribe’s people take in Ari. This search for the statue is used as a symbol of the ongoing pursuit for something bigger than ourselves. And, of course, that is what both these stories are about.

Jameson Currier is a talented writer who has created an important and thought-provoking book. These are credible characters who experience gut-twisting emotional hardships and victories. It is a book I can highly recommend, even if it doesn’t find a place on my “favorite’s” shelf.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Review: Woke up in a Strange Place by Eric Arvin

Reviewer: Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 978-1-61581-795-5

Joe wakes up in a barley field with no clothes, no memory, and no idea how he got there. Before he knows it he’s off on the last great journey of his life. With his soul guide, Baker, and a charge to have courage from a mysterious, alluring and somehow familiar Stranger, Joe sets off through a fantastical changing landscape to confront his past.

The quest is not without challenges. Joe’s past is not always an easy thing to relive, but if he wants to find peace—and reunite with the Stranger he is so strongly drawn to—he must continue on until the end, no matter how tempted he is to stop along the way.

I confess that I found myself of two minds while reading this book, part of me quite enchanted and part of me – the writing coach part – perturbed by some bad writing habits, particularly in the first 20 or 30 pages. Indeed, I nearly stopped reading and tossed the book into my “No, thanks” pile.

Let me quickly say I’m glad I did not, because once we got past a slow start, the book turned out to be a magical and often highly original interpretation of the mythical journey for the truth, the hero quest.

So let me start by waxing eloquent on what is good—make that very good-- about the book. First, as I said already, it’s a fresh and original take on an oft used theme (though not so often in gay or m/m fiction). Joe, the protagonist, wakes up in what he thereafter insists on thinking of as Heaven, although his spirit guide, Baker, keeps insisting that this isn’t that, at least not in the sense that he perceives it.

And like all seekers after truth, Joe sets out on a journey, without really understanding where it is he’s headed. At the onset, Joe’s memory seems mostly to have vanished, but as he journeys, memories come back to him, he meets people from his past, some of them changed, some of them not, and he sees scenes from his life in a different light.

I can’t get into all of Joe’s adventures here, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. Following them for yourself, taking your own journey, is way more fun, and more instructive, too, but the author displays a vivid imagination, sometimes humorous, sometimes profound, and nearly always charming. It would be very difficult, for example, not to be enchanted by The City of Thought, where people fish in the clouds with crystal poles for dreams and ideas. I’d book a vacation there any day. What gay male wouldn’t enjoy a stopover with “the brethren,” a sort of Heavenly fraternity house peopled with all the drop-dead gorgeous men of one’s dreams, all super endowed, all there for nothing more than the joys of endless sex? Hey, it may not be what they sing about in Sunday school, but it sound pretty heavenly to me. You can have the golden slippers.

Not everything is brightness and light, of course, in this journey any more than in your own life. There are some dark patches, some genuinely scary interludes, and some painful lessons to be learned.

There is that slow start, however, and the problems I mentioned earlier, and while I can’t exactly do a blow by blow (and what would be the point, since the book is already published?) it would be unfair to the writer to mention them and not provide a few examples of what I mean. Anyway, they are the sort of thing that a diligent writer can and should correct, which is to say it will benefit him in the longer run.

First, though, it will help if I explain that good fiction, short or long, is like a dream shared by the author and the reader. The author wants the reader to forget that he’s reading a book, and sink into the dream, experiencing it for himself. So, the cardinal sin for the author is anything that jars the reader out of the dream, reminding him this isn’t real, it’s only a book.

That is why, however clever it makes the author feel, this is not the time to show off one’s impressive vocabulary. The reader may be impressed, but he will also be jarred out of the dream. Even if he doesn’t jump up and rush to the dictionary, it will still give him pause to come across a word that makes him puzzle. Anyway, if he has no clue what “aureate grass” is, you’ve wasted your description. When given a choice between fancy, scholarly words or phrases, or the common language of everyday, choose the everyday. Most of your readers will be everyday people, and they will stay entranced, as you want them.

Victorian writers were fond of addressing the reader directly: “Little did she know, dear reader, when she climbed the stairs…” The author doesn’t do a lot of this, but phrases like “he could remember nothing of before, our hero…” smack of Victoriana. Remember the dream – when you are addressing your reader directly, you are reminding him this is only a book, a story you’re telling him, and not something he’s living as he reads it.

And there’s a lot of just plain old-fashioned overwriting. When Baker extends his hand to Joe, “…it secured a tight grip around Joe’s own…” It would be much simpler and clearer if he just took Joe’s hand in a tight grip, wouldn’t it? Or, when Baker “took a bite from his apple, first remembering to remove the cigarette that still hung from his lip…” I suspect most readers wouldn’t imagine him chomping on cigarette and apple together, but if the cigarette must be dispensed with, couldn’t the horse go before the cart?

Also, the book goes on a bit too long after the real story –which would be Joe’s journey—is ended. There’s an art in knowing when to bring down the curtain. No matter how clever what you add in after that point, it’s doing handstands just to show the reader you can do them. Save that for the lawn party when the book comes out.

Okay, yes, nitpicking, and I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think the author had a genuine talent – but talent alone is not enough. If a writer wants to get better, he must work at his craft as well. The real problem with these problems is that they are first-book mistakes, and this is not a first book—which raises the question, is the author learning? Or content to slide along? Now, I do know that not every writer wants to get better at it. There are those who really aren’t interested in getting good, just in getting successful – they are two different goals, and don’t always go together. This author is good enough, however, that I can’t help thinking he will want to do better. I hope so.

Still, this is a delightful book, one that I think most readers will enjoy aplenty. And, yes, you will probably guess before he gets there where it is Joe is journeying to. Or perhaps not even journeying to, since the author is offering an alternate universe in which all the logical rules needn’t apply—which is to say, maybe he’s already there, maybe always was, just not conscious of it. I am reminded of Stephen Levine’s description of the desired state of being: “Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be.” Which, maybe, is what Heaven means.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Amazon giving away eBooks???

I read an article yesterday which disclosed that Amazon has approached several large publishers with the idea that they want to charge a flat yearly rate to their privileged customers, and for that fee, the customers would get unlimited free downloads of eBooks. It is the same concept that Netflix uses for streaming films.

It is not clear at this point how the publishers and authors would be compensated, so the author blogs are buzzing today, and not in a good way. I think much of the problem stems from nobody trusting Amazon to treat the authors fairly. But there is a valid concern, and I'm confident that publishers will be looking out for the interests of their stable of writers. After all, Netflix pays billions in licensing fees to the movie studios.

While I hear many writers proclaiming that the sky is falling, I welcome the change. I for one love Netflix. I watch one movie per night, and this has allowed me to give up watching all network, and even cable TV. The idea of paying a monthly service charge and having unlimited access to thousands of films has changed my life. Not only have I given up watching TV, but I rarely go to movie houses to see first run movies. I am content to wait until Netflix lists them.

So how would my life change if I could get the same type of service for books? First off, as a reader, there are a number of books that I haven’t read because they are expensive. Now I could read them under the same low yearly fee.

As an author, I believe that I would actually sell more books under Amazon’s new plan. More people will read books if they can get dozens of books for one low yearly fee, and there is no reason to think that my books would not be included in that mix. I’m convinced my readership would grow.

I think my only fear, shared by many, is that Amazon would become even more influential in the world of book retailing. It is already a monster that is at the core of changing the entire book industry. This will give them even longer teeth. But then, no doubt B&N and others will follow in the path they blaze.

It is clearly too soon to tell, but I think this is a great idea. After all, isn’t this the same idea of libraries? Time will tell if the authors end up getting screwed, but you can bet your boots, if anyone does get screwed, it will be the very people who created the stories in the first place.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: Simple Treasures by Alan Chin

Reviewer: Victor Banis
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 136

Only the mediocre artist is always at his best – this is why we rightly judge an artist on the body of his work rather than on a single sample – we may just have gotten the wrong sample, that particular book when the writer’s aim surpassed his reach. It happens, but only to the true artist.

I’m happy to say that this time the goal was not beyond the artist’s reach. Simple Treasures couldn’t be a more fitting title for this offering from one of the best writers in the arena today, Alan Chin – because this is indeed a treasure, though writing this good is never really as simple as it looks. Here, as in his best work (but no, of course, not every time) the author goes beyond the confines of writing and enters the realm of art, and his genre is made the richer for it. As both a writer and a reader, I came away from this tale feeling that my experience—of life, of literature - had been greatly enhanced.

The title character, Simple, is a Shoshone. He has just been released from a mental hospital, where he has been abused essentially for the crime of being different. He is offered a job by Lance Bishop in the town of Saint George, Utah. Bishop’s father, Emmett, is an irascible drunk who has driven away every other caregiver – but in fact, Lance wants his father kept drunk. He plans to have his father committed and take control of the ranch, which he means to sell to developers. At first, Emmett rejects Simple’s overtures as well, but he soon recognizes a kindred spirit. There is a romance, too, between Simple and Emmett’s gothic-gay grandson, Jude.

Emmett is dying of cancer, and the ever present vultures roosting atop the barn provide a Greek-chorus reminder of imminent death. It was his wife’s death that sent Emmett into this long, downward spiral of grief and self-pity. Simple’s memory is dead, too—or as he himself explains it, his memory gets flushed clean each night. And Lance is dead to the pleasures of life or the soul. Even Jude is infected, convinced that for him there is no Life for him here, in this town--that Life exists elsewhere, in San Francisco to which he plans to escape.

But that is only the story as told by the words. The real story is written between the lines, and it is about nothing less than the encroachment of death, and the reaffirming of life, through love, through dignity, and the oneness of all existence. A man becomes a memory, a falcon becomes a man, and love bridges the illusory abyss that separates us one from the other. And how magically the author weaves his story, painting indelible pictures from nothing more, it seems, than mere wisps of smoke.
Deep in the human body—yours, mine, everybody’s—there is just one soul that we all share, as if we’re just tiny pieces of the same puzzle…That’s why we’re here in the first place, to make our sliver of the soul shine like the sun.
Chin doesn’t write erotica, but it would be a colder heart than mine that wouldn’t melt sharing Jude and Simple’s “first date” – fishing in Bitter Creek.

Simple’s pole jerked toward the water. “Jesus, I’ve got one.” He hauled the pole back to set the hook.
“Give him line,” Jude said. “Play him.”
Simple leaned out over the water, retrieving line.
With a wicked giggle, Jude shoved Simple, who tumbled into the water and was swept downstream, still holding the rod high over the water. Laughing, Jude ripped off his hat and boots and flung himself into the water. He was swept along, fighting his way toward Simple.
They met in the swirling water and pumped their legs until they stood in the shallows. They shared a sensual hug and kiss. When they broke apart, Simple held up a trout…

Simple sets out to help Emmett transcend his looming death by restoring his dignity and by transferring his spirit into the body of a falcon, and the story climaxes in a stunning ceremony in which man and falcon battle for supremacy while Simple dances and chants himself into an exhausted stupor.

Simple began to dance again. His feet stomped the ground with the same rhythm that Emmett had pounded out with his cane. He chanted and his voice grew in volume…the wind died. Everything went silent—even the crickets hushed—as if the universe were holding its breath. A minute later, the bird shrieked. In the distance, the sound of the wind drifting through the trees grew into a steady pulse, like the slow beating of a heart.

The author occasionally slips into the habit of repeating words where a different word would work better—and although I’m not generally in favor of censorship, I think the writing world would be better for having the word “then” banned from usage by all penmen. And he has developed a tendency to slide into melodrama, which is simply not his forte. Happily, that is minimal here.

Never mind. This is a stunningly beautiful literary effort. In the end, I cannot tell you if the story is a good or a bad one – those are intellectual considerations, but this is not a story told from or to the intellect, it is told from the heart. As Simple tells the old man, Some things can’t be talked about. Words only confuse it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More Will and Jay stories from Alan Barker

Three more W & J short stories from my good friend, Alan Barker. Hope you enjoy.


“I know Rae told us we had to wear something that showed a little of our personality to his swim disco,” said Will to his partner Jay, “but I have never seen James Bond only wearing black shorts, a bow tie and whatever it is you have hidden in your holster?”

“Well Will,” teased Jay, “wearing a mankini I guess does reveal a little about your personality, but when you come out of the pool, it might reveal that little extra you keep for ‘my eyes only’.


“Yay, that outfit is really cool,” said Jay to his partner Will, “fur hat, sheepskin body warmer and my old ripped cords make you look every inch Robinson Crusoe for our photo-shoot session at the studio.”

“Thanks mate,” replied Will, “but if ‘clothes maketh man’ does wearing shades, a floral shirt, a grass skirt and flip flops maketh Man Friday?”


“Will, you said we would just lay back in the sun and watch all the ‘hotties’ on the beach as we cruised along the coastline,” gasped Jay to his partner as their powerful leg muscles thrust their duck shaped craft forward in the hot sun.

“I’m so sorry Jay,” said Will, “Jac promised us a day out on his cabin cruiser, but it developed engine trouble so all I could do at short notice was hire this paddleboat from the pleasure beach.”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Review: Young Love, Too Soon Gone By Nowell Briscoe

Reviewer: Victor J. Banis
Publisher: MLR Press

A bittersweet tale of, yes, young love, from a refreshing new voice in the genre of gay fiction.

Jack, the narrator, picks his story up more or less in the middle, when young Max sends him a note asking to see him. They meet at a pizza parlor, and as they chat, the story gradually unfolds of the young lovers, Max and Zach – how they met as boys, how friendship became passion and ultimately love – but a star crossed love that ends in a tragedy.
The story does not end with the tragedy, however, as the author cleverly carries us not only backward in time, but forward as well, and gives us, if not a happy ending, one with the promise of happiness to come.

I don’t want to spoil the story by giving too much away, and since the plot is a fairly uncomplicated one, there’s not much I can say about how the early story develops. Suffice to say that the tragedy springs from a family’s blindness to a son’s sexual reality and their insistence on some kind of “normalcy.”

Interestingly, the author manages to create a lot of sexual tension without a lot of sexual activity. To be sure, he and Max share with one another memories of some explicit experiences in the past, but the real sexual tension comes from the attraction that Jack feels for Max and which it appears is reciprocal, and this tension mounts when the pair go from the restaurant to Jack’s apartment to finish their conversation. Neither of them, however, seem to know quite what to do about their attraction—if it is even mutual, and like Jack, we’re never entirely sure of that--and the reader comes away from the scene thinking that after all maybe it was better that they let the moment pass.

What makes this story enjoyable beyond its barebones is the sincerity with which it’s told. One gets a sense that this is something more than a work of fiction, a feeling that the author is simply sharing with his readers his own touching experience. The characters are true to life, and one almost imagines he is in the room with them listening to them talk. I think most of us, like the narrator, have been in those situations where we thought there was a mutual attraction, but we weren’t entirely sure, or weren’t sure how to make anything happen. What makes this work so well is that, just as in real life, we aren’t entirely certain if the other person is feeling the same or if we are just misreading the signals. Make a move, or not? Will I only end up making a fool of myself? Surely we’ve all been there a time or two.

This author also writes a series of columns for his hometown (Monroe, Georgia) newspaper, a series of reminiscences of growing up there, which I have been fortunate enough to read, and the writing in this story is in very much the same voice, more a conversational one than a literary one.

Which only adds to the sense of verity, as if you were catching a glimpse, through a window, of real life. Whatever flaws this story has, it has the great virtue of believability. It rings true, and that is not an easy thing for any writer to accomplish. Hats off to Nowell Briscoe for this, his debut story.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

EquaLITy Romance is here

Are you an author who writes GLBT romance? EquaLITy Romance is here. A bi-monthly publication for those who write stories of romance and adventure through the prism. This print publication will have a distribution of several thousand to events, conferences, bookstores, coffee shops as well as subscriptions.

EquaLITy Romance can help you increase your audience through:
· New Releases. Free new release listings

· Writer’s Cave. Participate in this fun romp into the writer’s world, your world, and get your name and website noticed.

· Short Stories. Give readers a taste of your talent by submitting a short story. We’d like to include one M/M romance and one F/F romance in each issue. We offer advertising as payment.

· Articles. We’re open to ideas. Do you have something to share such as the history of a sub-genre? What do you think readers would love to know more about?

· Advertise. Lots of ad sizes with affordable rates. Free website links on our website for advertisers. See Ad Rates on the website for more info.

· Authors Who Imagine More. Do you have a charity close to your heart? Do you believe we can make a difference? Enter the contest to win free ad space for you and your charity.

Be a part of the premier issue!
For more information please visit our website at:

If you know of an event you’d like to see EquaLITy Romance attend, give us a shout at:

Donna Keihle

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 7 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 #7:

Written by Alan Chin

With three novels published, 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….

I started by taking a college-level screenwriting class, which gave me the basics on formatting and structure of screenplays. I then joined a group of screenwriters who met once per week to critique each other’s work and help each other through the process of writing and polishing their screenplays. It was a fun group of talented writers, and with their help and encouragement I began to learn at Concord speed. At first I found it difficult to write screenplays. One has to strip away everything except what is shown on the screen. No long descriptions, no internal dialog, no telling what the characters are feeling. Only showing, mixed with dialog. You have to strip away all the flesh of a story until there is nothing left but bones.

I found that I loved that process, because it drove me to analyze the heart of the story, and also of each subplot. Then came the hardest part, making sure that specific turns in the story happen on specific pages. Movie scripts are incredibly structured, and industry professionals expect certain plot points on certain pages. It’s maddening, yet I began to relish the challenge of it.

In a little over a year I produced two screenplays, Daddy’s Money and Simple Treasures. Now came the time to sell my scripts to a studio. I now believe that for an unknown writer, it is perhaps a million times harder to get a movie professional to read your script than it is to get a publisher to publish your book. Nobody wanted to read my scripts. I spent a year before I finally managed to convince an indie producer/director to read Daddy’s Money. He loved it, even wanted to make the movie. The problem? He had no extra money to do the project. It takes millions to make a movie, and few people are willing to gamble that kind of money on an unknown scriptwriter.

I’ve spent a few years banging my head against producer’s doors with no result. During that time I wrote another screenplay, Flying Solo, and published another novel, Butterfly’s Child. I am now in the process of rewriting my screenplays into novels because I have lost confidence that I will ever see them made into movies.

I keep writing both screenplays and novels, and I keep promoting my books on the internet each day. I occasionally ask myself how much longer I will keep working to produce my stories, and more importantly, why I produce them. With all these many hours of work, it seems there must be more to it than the gratifying pleasure that a well-written story brings, both in the reading and the writing.

I know the answer, but to explain it I’d like to share a letter from a reader I received back in April of this year. I’ve gotten to the point where I regularly receive emails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed my stories, and although I love reading them, I no longer get too excited over them. But every once in a while one pops up in my inbox that is special. I’d like to share one with you that came shortly after the tsunami hit Japan earlier this year. She is talking about my novel, The Lonely War, and my offer to send all profits during the months of April and May to the Red Cross Japanese Relief Fund.

Dear Alan,

So beautifully written, and so very bittersweet. Thanks for what you did with it. I got it at the beginning of the month so that the funds could go to Japan. I should have had two boxes of facial tissues handy before I started reading though...I went through one and had to resort to drastic measures (papertowels, lol). Bravo.

For myself I'm declaring this week Alan Chin week. Because right now you're my own personal newly minted hero. Thank you for helping me remember that each person can make a difference.

May You Be Well,

And I responded to her with a heartfelt, thank you back, for helping me remember why I write. Because it’s true, whether it’s donating money, lending a neighbor a hand, or simply capturing with words the truth you find in your heart and sharing that, one person can make a difference in the world.

This seven-part series tries to chronicle how I became a published writer with a reputable publisher. It’s actually the path I took to make a dream come true. Reaching a new goal often means letting go of something you cherish. I gave up a seventeen-year corporate career with a highly esteemed company. How did I do it? I simply took the first step, then followed my heart. I’ve learned my craft as best I can, and I keep leaning each new day. Most importantly, I didn’t let any setback stop me.

What I hope you glean from my experience is that it is possible to follow your passion. And when you do, good things happen. Don’t wait for time to become right. Face your fears, make a plan, and take the first step.

You can find out more about Alan Chin and his books at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My new novella: Simple Treasures

I’m very proud to announce the release of my new novella, Simple Treasures. This story started as a free giveaway on my website, but then I expanded and polished the story, and Dreamspinner Press has published it in all ebook formats. Please take a moment to read the first chapter below.

Simple Treasures
By: Alan Chin | Other books by Alan Chin
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
ISBN # 9781615819362
Word Count: 33,853
Heat Index=Mild
Available in: Mobipocket (.prc), Epub, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, PDF

Buy Link

About the book
Newly released from a mental institution, Simple’s first job is caring for Emmett, a crusty drunkard dying of cancer on a ranch in Utah. Simple’s first fragile friendship is with Emmett’s grandson Jude, a gay youth in Gothic drag who gets nothing but grief from his grandfather. In an attempt to help both men, Simple, a Shoshone Indian, decides to perform a ceremony that will save Emmett by transferring his spirit into the body of a falcon.

Working to capture a falcon will bring Emmett and Jude closer as Jude and Simple’s growing love for each other blossoms, but all is not well. When the ranch, Jude’s future, and Simple’s happiness are threatened, more than Emmett’s spirit faces a bleak future.

An excerpt from the book
Chapter One

IN THE faint flush of predawn, a Kenworth sixteen-wheeler topped a ridge, forty miles east of Saint George, Utah. With only a half load to hinder it, the rig barreled along the interstate at twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. The driver hoped to make Las Vegas in time for breakfast. The truck rumbled on, unrelenting.

Simple rode shotgun, staring at a dusting of lights that looked like a pocketful of stars cast across a vast and lonely mesa. The iridescent specks reminded him of flickering candles at a funeral, although he had no memory of ever attending one, and he wondered if that metaphor was some ominous sign of what lay waiting for him in Saint George.

He had stayed awake all night, too excited to sleep. His eyes burned, and his mouth felt parched. He wanted a drink, but his water bottle was stashed deep in the backpack that rested on the floorboard, between his feet. Outside, the crowns of cottonwoods, tinged pink with the coming dawn, appeared to be pasted upon a gunmetal-gray landscape. With his peripheral vision, he saw the rearview mirror reflect beams of pale orange light that now chased him across the mesa.

The driver, Dale McNally, a high-school dropout with rough manners and rougher speech, couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. His eyelids drifted toward his cheeks at about the same rate as the Kenworth swerved off the highway. When the right front tire gouged into the skim of gravel on the highway shoulder, Simple grabbed McNally’s thigh and shook it. McNally’s eyes popped open, blinked. He eased the rig back onto the blacktop.

McNally had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, showing the thick, ropy muscles of his forearms. He wore a cowboy hat with a rattlesnake-skin band. The dashboard’s lights cast an eerie glimmer across his face, and a thatch of dark hair spread out below his hat, covering his ears and hanging over his frayed collar.

“Christ sakes,” McNally barked, “I picked you up so’s you could keep me awake. Help me out here, boy.”

That happened often. Simple was twenty-five years old—a stoic ranch-hand life had made him look closer to thirty—but even men his own age, like McNally, called him boy, son, or kid.

“How?” Simple asked, suspiciously.

“I didn’t mean that. You made yourself perfectly clear about that.”

Simple relaxed.

“Talk to me. Do somersaults on the hood if you have to; just keep me awake.”

Simple cracked his passenger window an inch, enough for a frosty breeze to whistle through the cab. He stared out the windshield, silent as a stone, trying to think of something to say.

“Someone should invent an electrical device for drivers to wear under their hats,” Simple said, “to zap their balls whenever they get drowsy. It could trigger from the change in blood pressure at the temples when the eyelids start to fall.”

Dale snarled, “Don’t be talkin’ about my balls if you ain’t goin’ to do anything ’bout ’em.”

Simple changed the subject, babbling on about the city lights mirroring the stars on the horizon. The hypnotic cadence of his voice made McNally yawn, a mouth-stretched-wide-open yawn, that pulled his eyes off the road for a dangerously long time. His eyelids became heavy again, drifted to half-mast, then closed altogether. His head leaned forward, and the Kenworth wandered into the oncoming lane.

Headlights from a tour bus illuminated the cab like a prolonged flash of lightning. The light triggered a memory in Simple’s head. Blinding light, someone grabs a handful of Simple’s hair and yanks his head back while four men wearing white scrubs hold his arms and legs. He fights with all his will, but they overpower him. A voice bellows in his head, “Get his pants down.” Clothes are ripped away. The orderly holding his hair positions himself between Simple’s naked legs. Simple hears the echo of harsh laughter.

Simple shook the image from his head. He grabbed McNally’s thigh again and barked, not really a word, but rather a harsh warning.

McNally’s eyes flew open and he jerked the wheel to the right. The Kenworth swerved back into its lane, and McNally struggled to keep it from careening out of control. “I’m telling you, boy, you got to help me. Talk to me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Tell me what an Indian boy like you is runnin’ from.”

“I ain’t running from; I’m running to.” One of Simple’s clearest childhood memories was constantly sneaking away from home with a library book under his arm. He felt the need to read alone, so that his family and the other kids wouldn’t tease him. Reading was not what boys did on the reservation. But he did. He had a favorite hideaway, in the cool shade of cottonwoods near the creek, where he would read the days away in the company of Twain, Hemingway, London, and Melville. But late in the afternoons, he would hear a door slam, and his mother’s voice calling the family to dinner. Then he would run, lickety-split, back to the house. All too often, by the time Simple had rushed to the kitchen, his grandfather was slathering the last ear of corn with butter, saying, “Too late, bookworm.” Simple would stare forlornly at the empty serving dish. Although Simple had few memories left, he suspected that he had been running all his life, that he was still running, as fast as possible, trying to claim that last ear of sweet corn.

“Shit,” Dale spat. “Even a knuckle scraper like me can see that you’re fresh out of prison. All your clothes still have the K-Mart tags.”

Simple lifted his arm and saw a price tag dangling from his cuff. He ripped it away and searched for a place to trash it.

Dale said, “Toss it out the window.”

Simple stuffed the tag in his shirt pocket. “I don’t remember much, only that they had me locked up. Not prison, some kind of clinic, but I have a job waiting for me in Saint George—” Simple pulled a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and read by the light of the dashboard, “—working for Lance Bishop.”

“Why do they call you Simple?”

“My grandfather named me that to always remind me that a warrior’s life is filled with simple treasures.”

“Could be worse,” Dale scoffed. “Be thankful he didn’t name you after Buttface Canyon, Nevada.”

“Sing me a song,” Simple said. “That will keep you awake.”

“I only know hymns, from when my mama took me to church.”

“Works for me.”

Nodding, McNally cleared his throat and bellowed, “‘Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.’”

Dale’s whiskey-tenor voice soared over the engine’s growl. The tune was uncomplicated, with trilling and mournful notes, resembling both music and a sorrowful cry. It reminded Simple of a Shoshone death chant that his grandfather sang the day Simple’s parents died. He loved the way the long, flowing vowels tumbled from McNally’s lips, like a river meandering through a forest. Simple heard each tone and also the slices of silence separating the notes. It sounded stark and sometimes discordant, yet staggeringly beautiful.

IN THE gritty bedroom of a rundown trailer house, an alarm clock buzzed. Jude Elder’s head swiveled on a pillow, his body folded into a fetal position. He came awake and looked around the room, confused. He cleared his congested throat and banged the alarm off.

He flipped on a bedside lamp, squinted. Rings adorned his lower lip, nose, eyebrow, and a half-dozen crawled up one ear. His mascara was ghoulishly smudged. He rolled off the bed, stepped over a pile of laundry, and staggered to the doorway. As he opened the door, light from the hallway lamp revealed dozens of angry red scars crisscrossing Jude’s torso and belly.

His head hurt too much to think. He focused all his attention on not falling over.

He tottered to the shower and turned on the water. As steam rose, he stepped in, grabbed his dick, and began to masturbate—eyes closed, mouth ajar. Soon his hips bucked and his mouth twisted into a look of quasi-sexual pain. He opened his eyes and they rolled back. He groaned.

Moments later, with both his hands covering his face, he began to sob.

He lifted a razor blade from the soap dish and sliced two lines across his chest. Blood trickled over his pasty torso as tears streamed down his cheeks.

A few minutes later, Jude ambled down the hallway into his choky little kitchen. He had wrapped a towel around his waist, bandages covering his fresh wounds. He opened the refrigerator and snatched a Budweiser longneck, twisting the cap off and downing half. He seized a prescription bottle and shook the few remaining pills into his palm, knocking them back and washing them down with more beer. He tossed the two empty bottles into a sink filled with dirty dishes.

Jude grabbed another Bud from the fridge and cracked it open.

In the bedroom, Jude sifted through the pile of soiled clothes. He stepped into a pair of boxer shorts, his only pair of jeans, socks, and cowboy boots. He lifted a white shirt from the pile, sniffed the underarms, and tossed it aside. He picked up another, sniffed, tossed it. The third and last he didn’t bother to sniff. He laced his arms into the sleeves and buttoned it up.

He jerked a roach from an ashtray beside the bed, fired it up, inhaled, and downed more beer. He took another hit, then strolled back to the bathroom to reapply his eye makeup. In the mirror, he only looked at his eyes as he painted his mask. He couldn’t bear to see the rest of his face or the scars at the base of his neck.

On his way to the front door, Jude lifted a ring of keys off a plate on the kitchen table, then he stopped in front of a mynah bird chained to a perch beside the door. He snatched a food carton and shoveled seeds into the bird’s bowl.

“Loser! Loser!” the bird cawed.

“Now you sound like my dad, shithead,” Jude said.