Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A New Cover for The Lonely War

Very soon, Dreamspinner Press will publish the second edition of my novel, The Lonely War. I am thrilled to have switched publishers for these story, because it will present the book to a new segment of readers. It is my favorite of all the stories I've published.

Yesterday, Dreamspinner sent me several possible covers to choose from. If you have a preference, leave a comment and let me know.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing Tip # 33 – Get Your Facts Right

With fiction, you want to absorb the reader into the dream, which is the setting, characters, and plot of your story. You never want them to pull out of that dream, and nothing will pull them out faster than reading something that they know is not true. It not only pulls them out of the story, but it undermines their trust that the author knows what the hell they are doing.

I started reading a novel the other night, and twenty pages into the story the protagonist flies to Bangkok, Thailand, a destination I’ve been many, many times over the past dozen years. I got excited because I love Thailand, and wanted to read this author’s interpretation of that setting.

The author described the protagonist muddling through customs, and then going outside and being smacked in the face with a wall of humid heat. I chuckled because that is so true any time of year.

Then the author described the protagonist seeing a line of tuk tuks waiting at the curb to take passengers into the city. I pulled out of the story and said, “No way!” There are hoards of tuk tuks in Bangkok, but one never, never, sees them at Suvarnabhumi airport, only taxis. That’s because it is a forty-five minute drive on an elevated highway into Bangkok, and tuk tuks never go on the highways, only surface streets. I shook my head, knowing this author had never flown into Suvarnabhumi airport.

Still, I continued reading. The author described the protagonist being taken to a hotel in Silom, the gay district. Then he described the tuk tuk driver pulling the protagonist’s suitcase out of the luggage compartment behind the passenger seat. “NO WAY!” I said again. Tuk tuks don’t have a luggage compartment, or a trunk, or anything other than a bench that customers sit on. The only thing behind the passenager seat is a license plate.

At that point I knew two things: 1. This author had never been anywhere near Thailand, and 2. The author didn’t take the time to do his/her homework.

So twenty-five pages into a three hundred page story, I threw the book in the trash, where it belonged. If the author couldn’t be bothered to do research, I couldn’t be bothered to read their novel. I was not about to get pulled out of the story every other page with more untruths.

So, take the time to research. Always know more than your reader does.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: The Silent Hustler by Sean Meriwether

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Pages: 251

Sean Meriwether stitches together an impressive collection of short stories in The Silent Hustler that are visceral, unsettling, poetic, beautiful, and real. He takes a magnifying glass to the edgy side of gay life, following unique characters that seem to jump off the pages and fire the imagination.

I won’t recount every story, but suffice to say that the author flexes his considerable talent to create a series of disturbing tales that challenge the reader, both emotionally and psychologically. Be prepared to have your senses wounded and healed.

Most of these stories involve young protagonists, still exploring their own confused emotions, as well as the gritty world they find themselves battling against.

In a world where much of gay literature seems to rehash the same ideas presented by the same set of stock characters, The Silent Hustler is a fresh, cooling drink for the senses. The range of themes, diversity of characters, and variety of narrative voices keeps this book a fascinating read all the way through.

I can highly recommend this book to any reader who enjoys well-written, taut, erotic stories about young men who are not so innocent. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: Herbie, A Toy’s Adventures In Healdsburg by Marie Butler

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Fitch Mountain Press
Pages: 31

Herbie is a hand-carved, toy soldier, made in Denmark, and bought by an American military man, David, as a gift for his brother, Mark. David brings Herbie back to Healdsburg, California, and Herbie becomes Mark’s favorite toy.

As time passes, Herbie is passed down to Mark’s sister, Meg. More time passes, and one day Herbie is kidnapped by the River Bandit, which turns out to be the family dog, King. King buries Herbie by the railroad tracks and decades pass before Herbie is dug up and placed in a Healdsburg museum.

Mark and Meg, now very old, visit the museum and find Herbie. It is a joyful reunion, but they leave Herbie there so kids can treasure him.

I don’t normally review non-LGBTQ books, but I made an exception because a good friend arranged for me to read this charming tale. It’s a quick, delightful read, full of interesting photos of Healdsburg and an assortment of children’s toys.

I did have a hard time trying to determine what age group the book is aiming for. The story itself is rather simple, so I would think the target age quite young, but the vocabulary used in the telling is more sophisticated, which didn’t seem to jive with the storyline.

That minor issue aside, I do recommend this for parents looking for books they can read to their preschoolers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dealing with Failure

I recently read an interview of Jack Halberstam, author of The Queer Art Of Failure, in which he stated: “That to make money and to advance professionally is what it means to be successful, and everything else is failure.” My knee-jerk reaction to that statement was to disagree somewhat vehemently, because that model of success thrusts my writing career dead center in the failure category.

The more I thought about his assertion, the more I agreed that it pretty much summed up society’s view of success. If one is not noticed and reasonably rewarded for one’s efforts, can one really consider him/herself advancing in any meaningful way? It makes perfect sense. If one masters a skill—any skill—the world will beat a path to your door and throw gobs of money at you to keep doing whatever it is you do.

So after a few days of thrashing that idea around, I had to admit that society, or at least a large part of it, would consider me a failure. I’ve put ten years into writing seven novels and three screenplays, none of which have sold anywhere near what I had hoped for. I’ve put a ton of work into learning my craft and writing my stories, and have gotten little monetary payback for that effort.

I have to admit that every time I open the envelope from my publisher and read the quarterly sales figures, my mood tumbles into depression and I ask myself why do I bother to work so hard to write and promote? I certainly don’t like working for pennies a day. (Okay I’m exaggerating, but that’s what it feels like.)

In order not to get too depressed I had to disregard what society thinks of me and ask the question: how do I judge success?

In thinking about my work and trying to find a different model of success to judge myself by, I realized that all my stories are about characters who do just that—they travel outside the society norm, define their own goals based on what is meaningful to them (and it is never money) and then go in quest of these goals. In my mind these characters are heroes who have abandoned the conformist lifestyles and the status quo, and journey into what is real for them.

I needed to do the same. I needed to learn from these characters who came from my inner-self. (Kind of teaching myself lessons about myself that I already knew on a deep level is kind of cool and spooky.) I contemplated what these characters were telling me for several days, and I finally realized that my model of success is built on pleasure rather than money—the pleasure it brings me in the creative process of writing stories, and also the pleasure my stories bring to those few readers who happen to stumble across my books and enjoy them.

That idea alone has allowed me to feel good about being a failure in society’s eyes. Let them judge me how they will, I march to a different drummer.

This model of achievement that society holds, I find to be unfortunate, because it squashes people who are doing important work for alternative reasons. Society needs to broaden its models of success and failure so that we measure ourselves against different standards. I like to think that the Occupy Wall Street movement is doing this, and that that movement will grow and flourish, but I think it’s too early to tell what will come out of that crusade.

Suffice to say, for now, I will continue writing, publishing, and promoting my stories.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Writing Tip #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book signing with ebooks?

On an online writer's group, an author described her experience of joining several authors for a book signing at B&N, but they were given no books to sign. If customers passed by carrying their Nooks, they could download the books right there for a discount. The authors signed postcards and books marks and such, but no books.

I don't own a Nook, but it seems strange to me that people would carry one while browsing in a bookstore, or is it just my antiquated thinking? Is this the future, signings with no books to sign? Am I the only one who thinks this is kind of screwy?

I posted this quesiton to a group of writers and this is what I found:

1) A lot of people use a Nook in the store, because B&N has a cool process that once you are on their wifi in the store you have access to special coupons, chapters from books, etc.. It's a pretty interactive experience once you're in the store.

2) Many authors have had some good success from creating postcards and such with their cover art for signings.

3) Add to that things like Kindlegraph where people can request autographed copies of their Kindle titles, and you'll see it's a whole new wave of promotional possibilities.

4) With PDF ebooks, it's possible to put a signature onto it these days.

5) There's also the new program that just came out for the iPad. Authors can actually do signatures INTO an ebook exactly like you would sign a print book, the only difference is that you're doing it on a iPad.

This topic is making me feel more of a fossil than usual. Kind of depressing, yet also exciting that the book industry is changing so rapidly. I would like to thank all the authors and publishers who responded to my questions with such great information.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Lonely War is released in Asia

I’m very excited to announce that my award-winning novel, The Lonely War, has been translated into Chinese and is now being sold in Taiwan and other Asian markets.

I received a dozen copies in the mail yesterday, and I must say I was stunned at the quality of the cover, paper, book binding, everything. They did a magnificent job and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’m even more thrilled that my work is now open to new readers in markets I never dreamed I’d reach.

This publisher, Soul Mate, has decided to bring a number of gay fiction books to Asian markets. Among the first books published are:
- The Front Runner trilogy,
- The World of Normal Boys
- Straight Acting
I’m very excited to be considered in the same light as these fine authors and works.

As far as I know, it is only available in paperback. I’m hoping it will soon be available on Amazon and other Internet sites.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Short Story Review: The Girls by Victor J. Banis

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Sniplits Publishing
Pages: 10

This true story chronicles the nearly fifteen-year love affair between the author and his two dogs, a self-assured spaniel named Jenny and a German Shepherd mix with Jackrabbit ears named Prima. The author adopted them as puppies, and the love affair began, not so much between the dogs and Mr. Banis, but between the two dogs. Yes, this is not your average pet story. It is a tale about the love between these two wonderful animals told by a man who was sensitive enough to understand what they meant to each other.

I ardently believe that until one has loved an animal, part of their soul remains unawakened. It is clear to me that these two dogs not only awakened the authors soul, they did the same for me while reading about their delightful relationship.

This story will warm your heart, make you laugh out loud, and also make you reach for the tissue. It is a beautiful, poignant story told in superlative prose that does not resort to sentimentality. I truly loved every paragraph, every word.

I have long been a fan of Victor Banis, and have read several of his novels and short stories. I believe that this little gem of a story ranks among his best works, both for quality of writing and for emotional impact. Highly recommended to all readers.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The final Will and Jay mini-stories

Over the past year I have posted a number of Will & Jay mini-stories from my good friend, Alan Barker. A few days ago Alan sent me his final set of W&J stories, which I've posted below. I've enjoyed Alan's creativity and humor in these fun tales, but am happy that Alan is moving on to more challenging stories.

So here for the last time, are three W&J shorts:

A Wind Up

"So you had this very strange dream where we were clocks," said Will to his partner Jay as he was woken up by his alarm, "and was I a travelling clock, a digital, a wall clock or something very special like an old carriage clock or even bigger, a grandfather clock?"

"Not quite Will, I was the type of wrist watch where you have to keep jerking your arm up and down to keep it wound up," replied Jay demonstrating the technique, "but you were something really awesome mate...London's Big Ben!"

Message in a Bottle

"Hey, Jay you know Scottie in the flat opposite has been leaving a message on his doorstep for his dream boyfriend Marc every day before he drives to work and although the note is always taken, no message is ever returned..."

"Well, Will, when he arrived home yesterday, there was a small card attacched to a single red rose placed in that vintage milk bottle he keeps by his front door...awesome...he's just text me that at this very moment he's on his first date at Stefano's, with Marc, his very special milk delivery guy.


"Paolo, do you know where Jay is," asked an anxious Will as he sat in Stefano's restaurant spooning up the froth from his latte, "he promised he would give me a ring, but all I get is his voicemail?"

"Sorry I'm late," whispered Jay, nervously getting something out of his shoulder bag and kneeling beside Will as Paolo played a romantic track over the speaker system, "in this small box is what I promised, and I hope with all my heart your answer is, 'Yes'."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review: Wingmen by Ensan Case

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Pages: 286

A year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ensign Frederick Trusteau, a naval aviator in the US Navy, finds himself transferred into a new outfit, the F20 fighter pilots in Honolulu. Trusteau (Trusty) quickly earns a reputation as a lady’s man with the other pilots, which couldn’t be further from the truth. He is confused about sexual matters, and dates women because that is what is expected of him, not out of desire. But the one sexual thing that becomes clear to Trusteau is that he gets aroused anytime he comes near his commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Jack Hardigan.

Hardigan is a flying ace, a hard drinking, hard driving skipper who takes a liking to Trusteau because of Trusty’s flying skills and his likable demeanor. Of course Hardigan also appreciates Trusty’s handsome looks, but he keeps that to himself. The two become so close that Hardigan makes Trusty his wingman, which angers the second in command, who had enjoyed that prestigious position before Trusty came along.

Hardigan and Trusteau grow closer and more intimate, needing each other’s comfort and support until they discover and come to terms with their mutual sexual attraction. They eventually spend a night together in a Honolulu hotel room consummating their love. The second in command sees them together and realizes the nature of their relationship.

The squadron sets sail aboard a fictional aircraft carrier, Constitution, during the later half of the war. They fly deadly missions in several key battles: Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon. Both Trusty and Hardigan face danger, are shot down and show extraordinary heroism. In the final battle, Hardigan risks everything to save his wingman. Do they survive the battle? Do they end up together?

This is a well-written, exciting, and emotionally touching novel. It is bound to become a classic in gay literature. It is character driven, and the author takes great care in creating complex, believable characters. I found myself pulling for them on every page.

Case also has a remarkable talent for creating tension in each scene, much of which is derived from the physical and emotional jostling of fighting men jammed together in life-threatening circumstances. And set within these extreme conditions and surrounded by all these manly soldiers, the author paints a touching and plausible love affair between these two men.

I was impressed with the author’s depth of knowledge regarding WWII aircraft, procedures aboard an aircraft carrier, WWII battles, and also the camaraderie among military men. Case has done his homework well, and it shows in the seamless authenticity of the entire story.

My one minor complaint came in the last twenty or so pages where the author wraps up loose ends in a postwar montage that is, for the most part, shown through a series of letters. The ending fell flat and added nothing to an otherwise exhilarating story. Wingman would be a more enjoyable read had it simply ended in 1945. This novel will no doubt be a five-star hit with readers who enjoy MM, gay fiction, and/or historical military fiction.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts on Courage

A good friend and fellow writer, Victor Banis, dropped the following poem in my inbox today. The topic was about courage and faith to face life's hardships. I've been thinking about it all day so I thought I would share.

Victor said: I share with you a poem that for many years has been taped to my typewriter/computer - words I have tried to live by, if not always with total success.

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield,
but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward,
feeling your mercy in my success alone;
But let me find the grasp of your hand
in my failure.

Rabindranath Tagore

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Decline of Brick-and-Mortar Delivery

Outwrite Bookstore in Atlanta has recently shut down, buried under a mountain of debt and not able to compete with the Internet vendors. Outwrite was one of the largest and oldest gay bookstores left in the country, after many others like Different Light Bookstores in L.A. and San Francisco closed. It is a shame, but it is the result of a changing marketplace.

During the past five years there has been a strengthening push for digital delivery, trending alongside the proliferation of personal media devices—mobile phones, Nooks, Kindles, and iPads. Explosive growth in this sector has changed the way we consume media.

With bookstores closing and paperback books being replaced by ebooks, the old method of getting your name out there to new readers—book readings/signings—is quickly disappearing as well.

The challenge for authors is to adapt to this evolving landscape of media consumption when planning their marketing efforts. Word of mouth is still king, and is more important than ever. We have broader social connections through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and an open mic platform to invite readers to get to know you via blogging. The potential for networking with new readers is higher than it has ever been—the problem is, it is much more challenging to get noticed in all the chatter. The goal is becoming a clear voice rather than part of the noise.

It is something that I am not good at, yet, and is something I work at every day. It takes work. It takes patience. It takes fortitude. I also think it takes always sending a clear and consistent message that “this—whatever this is for any particular writer—is what I stand for.”

The good news is that it doesn't take a million dollar marketing budget and a twenty-city book tour to find an audience anymore. A solid story and a lot of networking is all you need to get the cash register cha chinging.

I am excited about this new future unfolding in the media industries, though somewhat sad about the passing of an era. I truly miss browsing in books stores.