Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: Our Time: Breaking The Silence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by Josh Seefried

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Pages: 191

Our Time is an interesting, sometimes fascinating, often emotional compilation of first-person essays from gay and lesbian military personnel who had to hide their sexuality while serving in the US Armed Forces. It marks the end of nearly two decades of silence, and finally gives voice to the queer men and women who put their lives on the line in service to America under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Each story is only two to four pages long, a snapshot of the internal and external struggle that these service people had to live each hour of every day. Almost all branches of the service are represented, and these stories come from officers as well as enlisted personnel. These accounts detail the abuse—physical and mental—endured at the hands of their fellow soldiers and superiors, as well as the hardships suffered by the family members and partners of lgbt soldiers.

Now that these divisive policies are a thing of the past, gay and lesbian service people no longer need to live under the conditions outlined in these personal stories, but this book stands as a significant historical account of what was a legal injustice in this country, told by the people who suffered under the discrimination.

Each personal account records the unique experience of that service person, yet common themes weave through each of these stories:

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Walker writes, “I could not list my partner as a dependent on any forms. What were my rights—what were his rights—if I was hurt or incapacitated or killed? He would not even get notification if the worst happened. He was not eligible for my pension, benefits, visitation rights, counseling, or even the flag from my coffin if I died.”

Petty Officer Second Class Alex Johnson writes, “Part of my preparations for deployment included establishing guidelines for communicating with my significant other. We had to devise a way to hide the true nature of our relationship. So we created Yahoo e-mail addresses under fake names, and we developed a code to mask sensitive language. While I was deployed, if I wished to tell him I loved him, I would say, ‘One four three.’ We put other similar expressions in code so we could speak “freely” to each other.”

Warrant Officer Tania Dunbar writes: “For the past eleven years I have had to conceal my family from my friends. Soldiers, with whom I sweat, bleed, and cry, can’t ever meet the woman I love. Soldiers who depend on me for sound judgment and advice can never know who I myself go to when I need advice or solace. Friends who would die for me can’t ever meet the person who makes me want to live. Don’t get me wrong—there are a few soldiers who know I am gay, but it takes a long time to learn if you can trust someone with a secret that can ruin your career. So I don’t make friends easy, I don’t go to military functions very often. For me, home life cannot mix with work life.”

My one minor complaint about this book is the repetitiveness. There are over forty stories, and many parrot similar experiences. Still, throughout these many accounts the thing that shines through is the bravery and selflessness of these soldiers who defend our liberties while their own freedom was denied.

This is a significant book, both personally and politically. Josh Seefried, an Air Force officer and codirector of OutServe, has done a splendid job of presenting these voices of anguish and struggle and hope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rudyard Kipling poem for the season

My friend and fellow writer, Victor Banis, passed around a seasonal poem that I thought everyone would enjoy, so I posted it below for your enjoyment.

Eddi’s Service _ Rudyard Kipling

Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid
In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.

But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service,
Though Eddi rang the bell.

"'Wicked weather for walking,"
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
"But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend."

The altar-lamps were lighted, --
An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.

"How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is My Father's business,"
Said Eddi, Wilfrid's priest.

"But -- three are gathered together --
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!"
Said Eddi of Manhood End.

And he told the Ox of a Manger
And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The Word,

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhood End,
"I dare not shut His chapel
On such as care to attend."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Anatomy of Stress

I’ve had an epiphany today: Stress is a condition caused by not knowing. An example would be struggling to meet a deadline and not knowing if you will get the job done in time. Or struggling to pay all your bills and not knowing if there will be anything left over for food.

It seems that once you know one way or another, stress is reduced and transforms into some kind of action. If you can’t make the project dates, you take action to push out the timelines. If you don’t have enough money for all the bills, then you decide which bills won’t get paid this month. But one way or another, once a thing is known, the stress levels are reduced and you move on.

I realized this today because I’m trying to sell my house so that I can purchase a house in Palm Springs, California. A buyer has made a generous offer and I have accepted his offer. The problem, the buyer is having trouble securing a loan. Not too surprising in the current financial environment.

But the thing that has my stress levels going through the roof is that we are supposed to sign all the ownership transfer papers tomorrow, both to sell my current house and to buy my new house in PS, and less that twenty-four hours to signing I still don’t know if said buyer has the money available to buy my house.

One would think that with a day to go, they would have let us know if they had not secured the loan. These folks, however, have not been the best at communications. Meanwhile, my husband and I have been snapping at each other for two days, both keyed up over not knowing if this deal is going through. We have seen other real state deal fall apart at the last moments, so it is not inconceivable.

The funny thing is, knowing that stress is caused by not knowing does nothing to minimize the stress. So I suppose we have another day to swipe at each other before we know, and can move one way or another.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: For the Ferryman by Charles Silverstein

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 336

Charles Silverstein is not a name that I’ve heard pop up in discussions about the Gay Rights Movement, yet he quite possibly may have had more impact on securing equal rights for the lgbt community than Harvey Milk and others more famous. In this fascinating memoir, Silverstein uses the first half of the book to recount his career of fighting for gay rights, particularly in the psychiatric community, and he uses the second half of the book to narrate his twenty-five-year relationship with his life-partner, William Bory.

Silverstein’s most important contribution to the gay community was his historic 1973 presentation before the “Nomenclature Committee” of the American Psychiatric Association which led to the removal of homosexuality as a mental illness from the diagnostic manual, which eventually was responsible for decriminalizing gay sex between consenting adults. He went on to establish two gay and lesbian counseling centers in New York, and also was the founding editor of the Journal of Homosexuality, now in its fifty-seventh volume.

Silverstein is best known for co-authoring the groundbreaking 1977 The Joy of Gay Sex with Edmund White, and co-authoring the sequal 1992 The New Joy of Gay Sex with Felice Picano, which brought the original book up to date with regards to the AIDS crisis. Silverstein also authored a book geared to the parents of gay youth: A Family Matter: A Parents’ Guide to Homosexuality, 1977. So as you can see, the author is no lightweight. He has had a tremendous impact on gay rights, and the personal accounts of his activism are both fascinating and inspiring.

The author’s relationship with William Bory was both touching and riveting. Silverstein speaks candidly of their relationship, their travels to many exotic locations, William’s plunge into drug addiction that included crack cocaine and heroin, and William’s battle with AIDS. The author paints Bory as an eccentric genius that Silverstein loved deeply despite titanic flaws. Their relationship was loving, yet vexing, and the reader is never sure what will happen next.

I’d like to include a passage that shows the author’s personal and humorous style of writing:
When God gave out physical attributes, he did not do it equitably. For all-around attractiveness, the Germans cannot be beat (“God’s little joke,” William mused.) The Scots were given the most perfect asses (not that they knew what to do with them the year William and I were in Scotland.) To the Dominicans he gave large, beautiful penises that hung snugly over their testicles like those drawings of male genitalia in anatomy textbooks that make one wonder whether they are the sexual fantasies of the artists. I did not know about this physical attribute until I arrived at the Hotel Victoria.

So as you can see, this book is not some dry recount of someone’s career, but rather a fun and interesting account of two fascinating people during a time when equal rights for the lgbt community was exploding.

This is a book that is mandatory reading for anyone who has an interest in the Gay Rights Movement, politics during the AIDS crises of the ‘80s and ‘90s, or for anyone who simply wants to read an enthralling love story that happens to be true. For The Ferryman is a bold self-portrait of a distinguished and astounding life.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Will and Jay Christmas stories

My friend from across the Atlantic, Alan Barker, has been busy writing more Will and Jay mini-stories. Here are the wonderful two getting to grips with Christmas. Enjoy.

Jingle Bash

"I'm really looking forward to Rae's Jungle Bash,Will," called an excited Jay struggling to put on his Scrooge's costume, "but why are you all dressed up in wrapping paper, couldn't you find any Dickens character left in the agency?"

"No Will, Rae's party caused a rush on them again," complained Will, "so I've improvised, can't you guess what I'm Christmas Present!"

Christmas Greetings

"I hate climbing that ladder, the lights are hurting my eyes and now I've found pine needles where pine needles shouldn't be," moaned Jay to his partner Will, "alright, we needed the money, but at this height I think I should be paid danger money or be given a parachute!"

"Ho, ho, ho, Jay, down here in the Grotto being Father Christmas is awesome," chuckled Will, "but I think a wobbling Fairy wearing shades and scratching her backside with her wand on top of the Christmas tree is very uncool mate."

All about Eve

"That was brilliant of you last night Willo, waking me up with that welcome Christmas kiss under the mistletoe and sharing the wine and mince pies we aways leave for Santa," said Jay to his partner, "and then leaving all those presents under our tree, I was so sleepy I hardly recognised you in that costume."

"Wasn't me Jay," laughed Will, "I left Stefano's restaurant a long time after you, crept into the flat, well after midnight and crashed out on the sofa, so just who was this visitor matey?"

More of Will & Jay in 2012.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

They Like Me, They Really Like Me

I’m having a Sally Fields moment. Last year, my novel The Lonely War took top honors at the Rainbow Literary Awards, taking first place for Best Gay Fiction, Best Historical, Best Characters and Best Setting.

At this year’s Rainbow Literary Awards, my novel Match Maker was awarded first place in Contemporary General Fiction.

This is what one judge had to say: ““Match Maker” by Alan Chin is one of the best books I have ever read. The story was fascinating from page 1 to the end. And the characters were so realistic and intriguing. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop until I had finished it. Mr. Chin’s writing style is superb. –Verena”

So far, my first three novels have all earned awards. It is a fantastic feeling knowing that readers appreciate my work.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hillary Clinton's LGBT rights speech

Full VIDEO from Hillary Clinton's groundbreaking LGBT rights speech

It's long, but oh so worth viewing. Please, please listen.

alan chin

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: Junction X by Erastes

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Pages: 198

On the outside, Edward Johnson seems to have a perfect pin-striped life—wife, couple of kids, white-picket fence in one of the better suburbs, country club membership, and works as a stockbroker. He even gets an occasional blowjob from his buddy, Phil, on the morning train into work. Could life get any sweeter?

But then a new family moves in next door, and they have a beautiful seventeen-year-old son, Alex. A slow but powerful attraction grows between Ed and Alex. Ed has never considered himself a pedophile, so he fights the urge to flirt with Alex, but each time they are together, try as he might, Ed can’t control his growing desire for the boy. He stalks the boy until they have a sexual encounter while driving.

Ed is filled with gilt and remorse, and knows he’s going down an immoral path, but at the same time he lures Alex into a steamy affair. But how long can Ed juggle the responsibilities of family, office, and a teenaged boyfriend? And can Alex, being so young and inexperienced, control the volcanic feelings churning in his heart.

The first half of this story reads rather slowly, skillfully building in tension, and seems like a typical romance novel, albeit one with a middle-aged man falling for an underage boy. But shortly past the halfway mark, I realized two things: first, Ed was not the protagonist but rather, the antagonist; and two, this wasn’t a romance novel that would have a happily-ever-after ending. I was right on both counts.

This is a story about how unbridled obsession can ruin lives. Ed begins as a morally upright person with only a few skeletons in the closet. But his passion for Alex slowly leads him into being a pathetic, cheating scoundrel. And of course, he drags everyone connected with him into that same train wreck.

The plot is a simple one, without any subplots to cloud the water. But there is something to be said for a simple story told well, and this story is told extremely well. Erastes has obviously worked hard to improve her writing style and voice, and it shines here.

It is not often I come across a novel written in first person where the narrator is the antagonist. It gives the reader a rare glimpse into an unstable character, giving Edward tremendous depth as the author peals away his layers. He becomes a fascinating character, even as he disgusts. Yes, he’s a train wreck, but the reader can’t look away.

I did have one issue with this story. I felt that in the first ten pages, the author gave away too much, to the point where I knew most everything that would happen in the first 90% of the book. At midpoint, she broadcasted the other 10%. I would have been happier had she given away less and surprised me more.

That said, this is a passionate, emotional story. The characters pull the reader in and keep building the tension until the very last page.

If you are searching for a typical romance that will steam your glasses and make you feel good in the end, keep looking. If you enjoy a serious story of how mistakes cause pain, how passion can injure as well as please, then by all means, give Junction X a read.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Introducing Queerteen Press :: a GLBT YA imprint of JMS Books LLC

I recently saw a news release from JMS books announcing a new imprint for lgbt YA stories. I was excited by the idea and wanted to share it. Please read the following:

JMS Books LLC is pleased to announce its GLBT Young Adult imprint, Queerteen Press.

Queerteen Press publishes YA titles appealing to queer teens as well as their parents, teachers, and librarians. Books are available in electronic and print formats. A handful of titles are already available through QT Press, with several more scheduled for release in the early part of 2012.

We accept short stories, collections, and novel-length books in all genres of queer, literary, and genre fiction suitable for a young adult audience. This means books whose main characters are between the ages of 12 and 21.

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
Full submission guidelines are available on our website at

J.M. Snyder
Queerteen Press
YA Imprint of JMS Books LLC