Saturday, June 30, 2012

Short Story Review: Cooper’s Hawk by Victor Banis

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: MLR Press, LLC (June 21, 2012)
Pages: 26

Four days after the death of his lover, Mike sits at his rural home grieving for Adam. Mike and Adam’s children flew in for the funeral, and they—two men and two women—do their best to comfort Mike, but there is no comfort for someone who has just lost their soul mate. Strangely enough, a Cooper’s hawk begins flying around the farm, bold as brass and seemingly unafraid of Mike. I say “strangely” because Adam’s last name was Cooper. The children believe Mike is loosing his marbles, associating the bird with his dead lover, but that bird leads Mike directly to the bank on the creek where Mike and Adam first made love. Coincidence? You be the judge.

This is a tale of a man dealing with great sorrow, yet it is a story of unlimited joy. Kahill Gibran once said: “When you're sorrowful, look in your heart, and you'll see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Yes, the joy of this story came earlier, in the thirty or so years leading up to this tale. The reader catches the memory of a prodigious and honest love between two men.

Banis describes a love so real and so spot-on with such simple, straightforward language, that I found it mesmerizing. It is a beautiful story told with simple elegance, and so real that I realized that my husband and I would someday experience the same emotions, the same path—at least I hope so.

As with all Victor Banis’s works, I can highly recommend this story.

Friday, June 29, 2012

American Library Award "Stonewall Award" goes to "Sweet Like Sugar"

On Monday, June 25 the American Library Association presented Wayne Hoffman with The 2012 Stonewall Book Award — Barbara Gittings Literature Award for his novel SWEET LIKE SUGAR.

Congratulations to Mr. Hoffman for writing a lovely and touching story and for being honored with this prestigious award!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Go Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has restored my faith in how our government works, by about the width of an eyelash.  I’m feeling good about the Obamacare decision today.

I’ve been ranting to friends for a long time that we need new blood on the bench, that having these old fossils, decades past their prime, making decisions that affect our lives is wrong.  Corporations retire people once they hit their mid-sixties because people begin that down hill slide, get stuck in old thinking, and can’t see new ways to think about things.

This law that states these people are on the bench for life, no matter how much they go against public sentiment, is just wrong. There should be an easy way to retire these people if public sentiment goes against them. If we can impeach a president, we should be able to retire a Supreme Court Justice.

I realize they need to be able to make decisions without the threat of politics hanging over them, but they also need to keep the will of the people in mind. They are there to interpret the law of the land in such a way that it benefits the people they serve.

I would love to see some younger Justices on the bench.

My $0.02

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Writing Tip # 11 – Screenplays vs Prose, the naked truth

I’ve been struggling to complete a screenplay these last few weeks, and I’m almost there. It is my third screenplay. And with all the work I’ve put into this story, I’d like to focus this tip on some misinformation that led me down the screenwriter’s path to begin with. 

A few years back, after the publication of my first novel, Island Song, I felt dissatisfied with writing novels for two reasons. 1) A three-hundred-plus page manuscript took me four months to write the first draft, and another dozen-plus months to edit and polish. The time involved hardly seemed worth the payoff. And 2) Like most unknown authors, I was on my own when it came to marketing my novel, which is something I suck at. 

So I began taking classes in writing screenplays. I thought writing screenplays would be easier and faster, since a typical screenplay is only 120 pages or less (general rule is one page for every minute of movie). And the way the pages are formatted, there are half as many words per page. Simple I thought. I also like the idea of turning my finished baby over to a production company and letting them deal with promoting the movie. 

I now look back and realize that I was soooo naive. I can say with some authority that, at least for me, writing a 110-page screenplay takes more time and thought and effort than writing a 400-page novel. 

In a novel, you delve inside the characters’ heads to help tell their story. In most novels, the characters tell their own story with their thoughts, opinions and judgments. Where as a screenplay has only action and dialog to tell the story – everything must be shown, everything – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very difficult task to pull off. If you can’t see it or hear it, it doesn’t go on the page. 

The other thing that makes it especially challenging, is that you are still dealing with a 300-plus page story, but you have to find a way to cram that story into 110 pages. Every page is considered very expensive real estate, and every word has to fight in order to survive and take up its allotted space. You need to trim everything to the bone, and then find clever ways to trim more. The description of a scene takes one line. The description of a character, no more than two lines. Imagine trying to cram Yeats into a five-line haiku poem, and you begin to sense the level of difficulty. 

Then there is the marketing aspect. It may be true that the writer doesn’t participate in marketing the movie, but before the screenplay is made into a movie, the writer must market it to the studios, directors, actors, or anybody that knows anybody in the business. Trying to get a movie contract is a hundred times harder than getting a book published, because it is a very tight community, and if you don’t know someone on the inside to make things happen, you’re basically screwed. 

So, am I sorry I went down this path? Hell no. I love writing screenplays. It is a fantastic challenge and it’s even improving my prose writing. I think I’m actually getting reasonably good at it, considering my limited experience. But if you’re a writer looking for an easy path to get your stories out there fast, run, don’t walk, away from screenwriting.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Island Song Cast of Characters

A new edition of my debut novel, Island Song, was released last year. I thought it would be fun to give readers a list of characters found in that story.

This story was awarded the QBliss Magazine 2008 Excellence In Literature Award.

Dreamspinner buy link:
Amazon buy link:

The blurb:
After watching his lover’s long and painful slide into death, there is no peace for Garrett Davidson. Grief eats at him. In a desperate bid to survive, he flees to a secluded Hawaiian refuge. There he intends to write a memoir about his relationship with Marc, hoping the process will bring closure, restore his sanity, and kick-start a career in writing. 

He meets a captivating island native, Songoree, who offers promises of enlightenment and spiritual healing—but Garrett can only achieve it by abandoning his personal history. Can Garrett endure an excruciating journey that will tear him to pieces, wreak havoc among his friends, and break his despairing heart? Is it possible to attain fulfillment, even love, by surrendering everything you cherish? To survive, Garrett must find the answers.

Garrett Davidson is a man running away from the world after the death of his lover. He is consumed by guilt and grief. He moves to a lonely shack on the north shore of the big island, Hawaii, where he meets Songoree (Song), a local surfer. With Song’s help, Garrett tries to pull himself out of the depths of depression and back into the world of the living.  But everyone he knows is pulling him in different directions, including a crazy old kahuna that thinks Garrett is some kind of new savior.

Songoree (Song) is a Hawaiian surfer with royal blood flowing in his veins. He is apprentice to Grandfather, the local kahuna who has a plot to use Garrett for his own ends, and it is Song’s job to lure Garrett into their scheme. Songoree takes a job as Garrett’s housekeeper/cook in order to have daily contact with Garrett, but then things fall apart when Song develops feelings for his employer. When that happens, Song’s surfer buddies turn against him, and Song becomes the target of homophobic hate.

Grandfather comes from a long line of spiritual men, and he holds the secret to the survival of all humanity. In order to put his this ancient plan into motion, a plan to save the world, he must find the right person—The Speaker—to carry his message to all mankind. He thinks Garrett is that Speaker, but must play him like a fish to lure him into his scheme.  Grandfather will risk all in order to snare Garrett.

Hap is an old rummy who’s been kicking around the islands for forty years. He owns a fishing boat, but never works harder than he needs to. He has a taste for liquor and the easy life, but when he gets caught up in Grandfather’s plot, he finds that life is definitely not easy.

Mother Kamamalu is the matriarch of all the Hawaiian people, descended from King Kamehameha. She is enormous, five times the size of a normal woman, and represents the soul of Hawaii. She is Song’s mother, and she will do anything to protect him.

Audrey is a graduate student studying the Kahuna Anaana warriors, a band of spiritual men who used to be very powerful in the islands before the Christians came. She has heard rumors that Grandfather still practices their ways, but can’t get him to open up. But then she sees Garrett has a special relationship with Grandfather, and sees a way to use Garrett to get to the old man.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tap Dancing With Joy

About a year ago I finished my first attempt at a futuristic novel. It was a first for me in many ways: my first story set in the future; although it certainly deals (like all my stories) with gay themes, it is my first story with a straight protagonist; and it is my first story where I start the protagonist off as being unlikable, and try to make the reader warm to him over the course of the story.

I knew stretching my boundaries like this would be a gamble as far as publishers and readers are concerned. Having a straight protagonist meant many of the gay publishers would reject it (and several did.) Also, because this is not a romance, many of the women who read MM will not take to it. This is a story aimed at gay men. But knowing it may never see the light of day, I had to write it anyway. I had to break out of the constraints of writing stories with an MM romance edge.  At the time, I felt it was the only way I could grow as a writer.

So throwing caution out the window (sorry for the cliché), I spent two years developing this story of twin brothers, both battling a corrupt US government in 2055. One is a straight warrior, the other is a gay writer, both fight for liberation in their own way. In my opinion, it is my best story, and by far my best writing. I’m very gratified with the results.

As expected, my current publisher, Dreamspinner Press, rejected the story because their audience demands MM romance. No surprise there. So I started shopping it around, one by one, to other gay publishers, all the time convinced I would need to self-publish this book to get it in print. I received two more rejections before getting lucky—very lucky.

Yes, I received an acceptance letter from Bold Strokes Books on Friday, telling me they would be happy to publish my story. I’m now waiting for the contract, but I’m thrilled they are willing to take a chance on me. My elation goes way beyond the opportunity to have this one story published by a reputable firm; it is about joining a publishing firm who doesn’t handcuff themselves or their stable of writers into one genre.

I feel exceedingly fortunate to have an in with a publisher who publishes a wide breath of genres, because that is definitely where my writing is taking me, far far away from MM romance. I feel I am growing as a writer, and it looks like I’ve found a publisher who is willing to stick by me as I grow.

Me likes it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Review: The Letter Q, Queer Writers' Notes To Their Younger Selves

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Pages: 281

This is a collection of letters, notes, and comic strips from sixty-four award-winning writers and illustrators such as Michael Cunningham, Terrence McNally, Amy Bloom, Armistead Maupin, David Leavitt, Christopher Rice, and Susan Stinson. Each of these “letters” are messages the authors have written to their younger selves to ease the bumpy road of growing up an lgbt youth, all in the tone of “It Gets Better.” They give bracingly honest reasons for young people to tough it out, and hold out for a better future.

These letters are written with unyielding perception, humor, and tenderness. Many of the letters are both eloquent and touching, reminding me of many of my own experiences growing up.  They give a united voice of uplifting support of queer youth. I do wish I could have read this while growing through my teens.

I confess that I did not read all of these letters, simply because the themes are so repetitive it gets tiresome. Still I did read all my favorite authors, which many were represented here, and several writers I had not heard of before now, but will certainly read more of.

This book is a must read for any queer youth struggling to accept their sexuality or who are experiencing discrimination from the community. There is a clear and important message repeatedly banged like a bass drum, that queer kids are cool, and important, and just as worthy as anybody else. And the messages to tough it out, because it certainly does get better, is at their core all messages of hope, and of love. I highly recommend this book to all readers, young and old, queer and straight, sons, daughters, and parents.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Event: Rob Rosen, Alvin Orloff & Jim Provenzano

You are  invited to the event: Rob Rosen, Alvin Orloff & Jim Provenzano.

Date: June 26, 2012 07:30PM
Venue: Books Inc.
Location: 2275 Market St., San Francisco, CA, The United States

Rob Rosen ('Hot Lava') tells us all about his newest novel 'Queerwolf' and is joined by Jim Provenzano, author of the Lambda Literary Award-winning 'Every Time I Think of You,' (and 'PINS,' 'Cyclizen' and 'Monkey Suits,') and Alvin Orloff, author of 'Gutterboys' and 'Why Aren't You Smiling?'

See you there.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Finding Snow Plants – Is That Too Gay???

Yesterday, Herman and I decided to escape the 107 temps in Palm Springs, so we packed a picnic lunch and took the tram up the mountain. We found lovely 70 temps, a pristine pine forest, clear skies, and gentle breezes. Lovely.

We spent four hours hiking the trails—five or six miles—mostly up and up and up. Because I carried a twenty-pound pack of food, water, and books, my legs are definitely feeling that climb today. But there were only a few other people on the trails, and the forest was basking in its last radiance of Spring. We saw the usual forest animals, including a few deer.

There is something so satisfying about parking my butt in the shade of a giant pine and reading a good book—which I did for about an hour—with only the forest sounds to accompany the prose. I loved it, and Herman and I have made plans to repeat this at least once per week for the rest of the summer. It is too grand having a forest just a ten minute drive and 15 minute tram ride away from my front door.

The best parts, however, was the snow plants are blooming now. They are these luscious blooms that poke out of the forest floor four or five inches, with a heavenly red hue. Too divine. I first saw snow plants in Yosemite Valley while stoned on acid. I thought I had created it in my drugged state, because I couldn’t imagine anything so beautiful being utterly natural.

Anyway, it was a lovely day, a lovely picnic under the pines, and I shared it with a lovely man. Is that too gay or what???