Thursday, August 30, 2012

Staring Success In The Face

I read an article yesterday ( that gave several tips on how to become a top performer, no matter what your field of expertise. I found the first tip most interesting, and that is to stare at who you want to become. They were not talking about gazing in admiration, but rather staring the kind of raw, unblinking absorbed gaze of a big game cat stalking its prey. Why you ask?

According to these “experts,” one of the keys to inflaming your motivation is to repeatedly fill your vision with vivid images of your desired self, to gaze at them every day. Studies indicate that even a brief connection with a role model can vastly increase unconscious motivation. For example, being told that you share a birthday with a mathematician can improve the amount of effort you're willing to put into difficult math tasks by 62%.

I’ve seen this phenomenon occur in professional tennis, where a country like Japan had no players at the top professional level, but once one breaks into the top fifty, it motivates many others to strive and achieve those same results or better. That is because they have a role model to focus on, a vivid picture of what success looks like (according to this article).

To me this explains why people have so many statues and pictures of the Buddha or Christ in their homes, because these are role models if you are striving to be a virtuous person.

It also explains, in my case, why I continually re-read books by authors I admire, and never get tire of them. I’m studying their technique, both consciously and unconsciously, while enjoying the products of their skill.

I’m now thinking of putting a few pictures up in my office of my favorite writers, but I have so many I’m not sure where to start. Steinbeck? Shakespeare? Truman Capote? Annie Proulx? Jim Grimsley? Colm Toibin? The list goes on and on. But I believe I will narrow it down and get a few.

Think of your role models as an energy source for your brain. Use pictures or, better, video. One idea: bookmark a few YouTube videos, and watch them before you practice whatever it is you wish to improve on, or at night before you go to bed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writing Tip: Sound

Prose creates sound. Accomplished writers not only tell a story or paint a picture with words, they pay attention to the sound of language, to its rhythms, breaks, alliterations, rhymes and echoes. Good writing translates into immaculate prose, beautiful to hear and beautiful to read.

Musical notes reverberate in tiny waves, always growing louder or softer. The same is true for prose. And sound can be one of the harder problems to diagnose and correct. You want it to flow. The last thing you want is a jarring sound that pulls the reader out of the dream.

The most common dilemma with sound results from poor sentence construction. The root problem is caused by awkward sentence division – misuse of commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes and parentheses. 

In some cases sentences are simply too short or too long.

Another problem is echoes, using a character’s name or some other word too often. Many authors use “he” and “she” too often. Also, using an unusual word that stands out too often. I have a habit of using “he” or “she” to start several sentences in a row, as in “He said this. He did that. He heard something. He turned around.” It quickly gets monotonous.

Yet another issue is Alliteration, where the repetition of the first letter of a word and the first letter of a following word is the same – for instance, the “large lock” or “walking down the wide street.”

The best way to catch sound issues is by reading the text aloud. On my Mac, I can highlight the text and have the computer read it aloud. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve caught doing this.

Once you identify an issue, an effective way to deal with it is to cut and/or simplify. Many writers equate complexity of thought with complexity of sentence structure. I believe that is a huge mistake. To present ideas simply and clearly is next to Godliness.

Bottom line is to pay close attention to the sound of your prose.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cover Art For My New Novel

I’m back home after a two-week vacation, and getting back into blogging. Tuesdays are my days to showcase my work. Today I’d like to share some of the cover art options for my new novel at Bold Strokes Books, The Plain Of Bitter Honey, which will be released sometime in Spring, 2013. It’s a futuristic story about twin brothers, one gay and one straight, fight against a corrupt government in 2055. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Book Review: THIRD YOU DIE (Kevin Connor Mysteries) by Scott Sherman

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine 
Publisher: Kensington, Sept 2012
Pages: 288
Compromise is part of any relationship, and Kevin Connor gave up his lucrative (but dangerous) work as an in-demand Manhattan call-boy, in order to appease his lover Tony, a New York City police detective. Ironically, Kevin ends up working for his mother, Sophie, who parlayed a memorable debacle on a daytime talk show into her own such show. 

When "Sophie's Voice" does an episode about sex trade workers, Kevin meets Brent, a gay porn star who looks enough like him to startle both of them, and they have a nice conversation. When Kevin tries to contact Brent later, there is no answer, and he finds out that nobody has seen him since a few days after the TV appearance, he remembers Brent mentioned he wanted to leave the business, but worried about angering those who had set him up in it. As the weeks pass, and the young man is still missing, Kevin looks into his disappearance, and finds out the kind of hold the studio might have had on him. 

Kevin is also dealing with Tony's remaining closeted to his co-workers, friends and young son, which forces Kevin into "Best Friend" mode when anyone else is around. Kevin wonders if Tony is as committed to the relationship as he is. 

This is (obviously) the third in the series, and perhaps the best so far. Sherman crafts an engaging mystery, tempered with colorful characters and his quick wit throughout. While not absolutely necessary to read the series in order (since enough back-story is given), I recommend you catch up on the previous books as well. This is probably my favorite current mystery series, and seems to get better with each new book. Five stars out of five!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Women's Bodies Can Shut Down

I generally refrain from making political statements on this blog, but I keep being shocked by what’s being vomited from the Republican Party, so I thought I would pass this message along:

When it comes down to it, there is so much more at stake than economics. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing Tip: Unveil a Character’s True Nature

In your story, if you introduce a main character who is a caring lover, and by the end of the story s/he is still what s/he appeared to be, a caring lover with no secrets, no hidden passions, no dashed dreams, then your reader will be sorely disappointed, or at least bored. 

By the same thinking, if your main character’s inner life matches his/her outer life, that is, everything about him/her shows up front, then his/her character becomes repetitious and predictable, hence tedious. 

The revelation of a character’s inner character in contrast or contradiction to his/her outer characterization is fundamental to all fine storytelling. With interesting characters, what seems is not what is. People are seldom what they appear to be, and a character’s hidden nature waits behind a façade of traits, good or bad, for the right moment to reveal itself. 

Whatever they say and however they compose themselves, interesting characters will reveal their true nature only when placed in a pressure situation. Pressure is key. 

Underneath a character’s appearances, are they loving or cruel, strong or weak, generous or selfish, courageous or cowardly? The only way to know is what choices that character makes under pressure. For instance, if a character tells the truth in a situation where telling a lie would gain nothing, it reveals little about his/her inner nature. Yet, if this same character insists on telling the truth when only a lie would save his/her life, then we see his/her true nature. 

That’s why a story should have escalating levels of pressure situations going from low to high to extreme. As the pressure builds and builds, your characters should reveal more and more of their inner-selves until the reader knows them body and soul. 

Taking this principle a step further, the best writing not only unveils inner nature, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or worse, over the course of the tale.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I write ever morning, seven days a week. Writing is my drug of choice. It gets me high for the rest of the day, and usually pulls me back into it for a booster in the late afternoon.

But this week I took a break from writing on my manuscript, my blog, even making notes about my characters. For a solid week I did nothing on my computer.  I spent that time beside a lake, swimming, canoeing, hiking, reading, roasting hot dogs over a campfire, studying the stars. No phones, no laptops, no radio, no TV. I feel great about that.

I never really realize how keyed up I get when I’m involved in a story, but I do. Like any drug, it sucks you in and gives you that promise of happiness, fulfillment, joy, yet it also undermines the nervous system.  And like a drug, you never really realize that fact until you walk away from it, cold turkey. Then it becomes abundantly clear.

I think I get so keyed up because I want to make my stories perfect, each word exactly the right one to convey the idea, keep the mood and rhythm. I’ve become a perfectionist, and that makes writing hard work.

Now that I’m back and looking at my work with a clear head, I’ve come to realize two important facts over the last week:

1) I need to decompress more often. I will help my writing, not hinder it.

2) You really can't appreciate how fantastic a hot shower and a comfortable bed are until you've spent a week in the backwoods bathing out of a pan of cold water and sleeping on the ground. A hot shower and soft mattress are two of man’s greatest creations.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: Shirts and Skins by Jeffrey Luscombe

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 223

Jeffrey Luscombe’s debut novel features Josh Moore, who lives with his dysfunctional family in the gritty industrial city of Hamilton, Ontario. At an early age, Josh plans his escape from the oppressive steel-mill culture, and dreams of adventures in far away places, but year after year Josh’s dreams take a backseat while he grows further immersed in the town and society that he abhors.

The novel is a series of well-written short stories, each one a snapshot of a time during Josh Moore’s life. Every story is finely crafted to show the development of each turning point in the protagonist’s life, and illustrates how life can, inch by inch, crush a person’s dreams and the will to fight for what one believes.

Although each story brilliantly captures a mood and paints a vivid picture, it took me a long time to warm to this lead character, about 180 pages. I simply didn’t care about him or his dreams because the author didn’t do enough to make me connect with him. That made for a somewhat dull read, but things changed in the last 40 pages. I began to cheer for Josh, and finally became absorbed in his story.

I’m not a huge fan of coming out stories, but this one I can highly recommend, because I feel it is more about overcoming a lifetime of bad choices to finally savor that sweet wine of triumph. It is about battling one’s culture and past, to find one’s identity. Shirts and Skins is a story that, I feel, everyone can relate to. 


If you have a moment, please read my latest interview at Literary Nymphs. They asked some unusual questions, among which I talk about the hardest thing I ever did. Check it out at:  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Removing Things

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

Most writers know that recognizing what to cut is equally as important as knowing what to add.  In my opinion, elegant writing is not long flowery passages, but being able to paint a portrait, create a mood, or convey an idea with as few well-chosen words as possible. 

It’s a lesson I try to apply on the page, yet it seems a lesson that applies to life as well. Creating peace, happiness, and/or satisfaction sometimes depends on what we choose to take away.

I just had some dear friends visit from the Bay Area to spend three days with Herman and I while they looked at property.  These friends, a couple, are loud, animated, and can fill any space with conversation. As much as we enjoy these friends, after a few hours of them being in my house, I was ready to return to a quiet, empty space where I can concentrate on my work. It made me appreciate the meager environment I’ve created for myself.

I place a high value on my work and contemplation and self-reflection, which means I spend a great deal of time alone. Yet, even though I love that, I often feel too removed from my husband, other people, and the physical world. You see, it takes a balancing act.

It’s great to love life—work, friends, spouse, new adventures—but if you overextend yourself to one extreme or the other, even the utmost passions can become stressful and overwhelming.

I think the key is balance, knowing when to cut back on certain activities in order to maintain a rich, full existence. A few dozen years ago, I was a person to stayed on the run, always busy with something. Through Zen meditation, I finally realized that I stayed busy to mask my loneliness, insecurity and emotional pain. Staying still allowed me to deal with, and finally work through those feelings.

There is a famous urban legend that someone once asked Michelangelo how he was able to create his masterful David. He replied, “I simply chiseled away everything that wasn’t David.”  By that same thinking I believe we can all chisel away all the thoughts and choices that don’t contribute to a balanced, fulfilling life, to find a masterpiece.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Writing Tip: Elements of a Romantic Comedy

For the past three weeks I’ve been trying to finish everything on my plate so I can focus on a new screenplay that my script-writing partner and I have begun. I’m almost there. And because the script we are writing is a romantic comedy, one of the things I’ve been doing in my spare time is researching what makes romantic comedies different from other types of stories. And although I’m focused on screenwriting, the principles apply to novels and short stories as well. 

So far I’ve found six distinguishing elements that separate romantic comedy from the rest of the field. They are:

1) The main character (Hero) must pursue some sexual or romantic interest. This sounds like a no-brainer, but a writer could decide to have the love interest be someone other than the hero. However, as with all successful stories, the most important character is the hero, with whom the reader or audience most strongly identifies with, and in romantic comedies it must be this character who is pursuing (or being pursued by) some compelling romantic desire. That’s what makes it a romantic comedy – the hero must desperately try to win (or win back) the affections of another character. 

2) The hero must pursue an additional goal. Simultaneously chasing two or more goals (often goals at odds with each other) adds complexity and originality to the story, and also accelerates the pacing.

3) The characters are desperate to achieve their goals, and fight apposing conflicts with tenacity. They should never think they, or the situation, is funny. It must be deadly serious to them. Strangely enough, the comedy grows out of the hero’s pain and loss. The plots of the most successful comedies deal with cheating spouses, disease, physical abuse, humiliation, unemployment, suicide and death. The humor arises from the way the hero overreacts to these situations. 

4) Although most romantic comedies almost never show actual sex, they are sexy. There is always lots of flirting, and the hero must confront his/her sexual desire. If the hero and love interest do slip into bed together, the audience must see everything leading up to that hot embrace before the bedroom door shuts in our face. 

5) The plot resolves around a deception. For instance, the hero is pretending to be someone he’s not (Mrs. Doubtfire, Tootsie, The Birdcage), or is lying to his beloved about his feelings or intentions in order to pursue the relationship. Dishonesty is a necessary element to increase the conflict and humor, and also to force the hero to confront his/her inner conflicts and deceptions. Only by facing the truth about themselves are they able to arc into someone better.

6) It must have a happy ending, or if the hero doesn’t get the boy, the reader feels that the resolution is the most appropriate or satisfying ending for the hero.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Literary Nymphs gives Match Maker the Golden Blush Award for recommended reading.

Literary Nymphs Reviewer: Mystical Nymph

Four year ago, tennis and life partners Daniel Bottega and Jared Stoderling had their sexual orientation became public knowledge, forcing them off the professional tennis circuit. Daniel now teaches tennis at a second rate country club, while Jared spends most of his time dealing with his overwhelming disappointment by drinking too much. The pain, frustration and discontent of their lives is putting a terrible strain on their decade’s long relationship, and Daniel isn’t certain it will survive.

The lives of both men takes on a sudden change when Daniel is given the opportunity of coaching a young tennis prodigy, Connor Lin, for the upcoming Grand Slam competition, and he takes Jared along as Connor’s doubles partner. Getting back on the circuit does several things to the couple. It opens their relationship up to media scrutiny, results in rumors that Connor is also gay and exposes the trio to unfair bias by homophobic judges and gets them numerous threats of violence. Most importantly, it leads to a return of Daniel and Jared’s competitive spirit that serves them well as they advance higher through the rankings.

Through all the strife, the three struggles past each new obstacle, every one capable of destroying their championship dream. Then the worst possible thing happens and a unsympathetic tennis association official’s security inaction puts them in danger and Daniel nearly pays with his life.

Match Maker is the first book by Alan Chin that I’ve had the pleasure of reading and it won’t be my last. In fact, I’ll be making a concerted effort on finding others he’s written and watch for new releases.

I have to admit that sports aren’t my thing - far from it - but that didn’t stop me from being fascinated by the blurb for this contemporary M/M romance. While I might be sports-knowledge-challenged, it’s apparent immediately that Mr. Chin doesn’t have that same problem. He knows his tennis and he’s not afraid to use the information, peppering the story with technical terms, coaching styles and the stress of traveling and competing on the national and international level. To this, he’s added two great three-dimensional characters in Daniel and Jared - long term lovers struggling to make a happy life in the face of homophobia and bigotry induced disappointment. With creativity and flair, he’s blended these components together with beautifully described locales and interesting secondary characters and turned the whole into a realistic and gripping story that I couldn’t put down.

I really can’t say enough good things about this vividly described and well-written and well-plotted story. It’s an alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming story that has won a spot in my keeper file. Give this one a try. You won’t be sorry you did. Read and enjoy! I most certainly did.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Marilyn Monroe - A Summer Treat

A few months ago, Palm Springs erected a 60-foot statue of Marilyn Monroe right down town, and people have been talking about it every since.

Last night would have been Marilyn’s sixty-eighth birthday, and Palm Springs threw her a party. At a small park adjacent to the statue, they set up a stage, and as the sun set behind the mountains to the west, the celebration began with an Elton John impersonator who was in great voice. Two other local jazz bands performed sets, and the highlight of the evening came when a Marilyn Monroe impersonator joined the Elton John impersonator to sing Candle In The Wind, with several hundred people in the audience holding up glow sticks.

It was a beautifully hot evening (mid-90s), with hordes of interesting looking people milling around, and hours of fun music. It turned into one of those nights where I sat back on my blanket, taking it all in, holding hands with my husband, and simply feeling grateful to be alive.

And by the way, Marilyn looked fabulous for sixty-eight.  Love her.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Book Review: Eromenos by Melanie McDonald

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Seriously Good Books
Pages: 168

This coming-of-age novel is set in the second century AD, and recounts the seven-year relationship between Emperor Hadrian and Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth from Asia Minor. Told from Antinous’s point of view, this story recounts the affair between the fourteenth emperor of Rome and a Greek farmboy that was raised to the height of a pagan god because of his famous beauty.

The author gives rigorous attention to historical accuracy in recreating Roman society in the second century AD, and presents it with beautiful prose, which is by far the highlight of this otherwise dull novel.

The first third of the book is mostly description about the setting, with few scenes and no conflict to speak of. In fact, the writer’s style of telling, telling, telling, keeps the reader at a distance from the characters, and offers very few engaging scenes throughout the book, making it read like a dry history book. I found it lacking in exploring the interpersonal relationship between Antinous and Hadrian, which left me wanting more.

The author offers up a few petty court squabbles as a way to inject drama, but they seem so insignificant that they don’t register on the interest scale.

This is obviously a well-researched novel, told with a lovely voice, but it is not a book I can recommend.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pushing Back

Last night I Tweeted my pleasure at seeing the Olympic Men’s Diving, commenting on how sexy all the athletes were. A few seconds later, I received a flaming hate-Tweet from a homophobic Christian, preaching that God never intended for men to have sex with men.

I was curious to know why a stanch homophobic Christian would follow a proud and an openly gay Tweeter, so I checked out this guy’s profile, only to find that he is heavily tweeting about the current Chick-Fil-A controversy. He is virtually making a career out of vomiting his particular brand of hate across the Internet.

I admit my first reaction was to push back, to send an equally flaming Tweet, telling Mr. Homophob exactly what I thought of him and his religion. But as I unsuccessfully tried to think of some astute response, my thoughts shifted to the Chick-Fil-A issue.

Anyone who’s been on social media in the last few weeks knows there is a fierce battle of words being fought in cyberspace and in the media, a battle of Progressives vs. Christians. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that half the country is pushing back on these antiquated Christian “values”, and my anger drained away.

Only a dozen years ago, it was accepted that intolerant bigots could shout their judgments without reprisal. But those days are gone. Social media is allowing Progressives to organize and push back, shining a bright light on small-minded views. There is a national movement to push back on anyone who attacks the rights of others, and thank goodness for that.

I was reminded of a quote from Sir R. F. Burton: "The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man has never worshipped anything but himself.

In the end, I could only feel a bit sorry for this self-righteous person.  I decided to simply block this person from my tweets so I don’t have to be bothered by him again.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writing Tip: Flashbacks - Use Them Sparingly

I’ve read two books in the last month that managed to capture my interest, get a good pace and story momentum going, and then introduce a number of lengthy flashbacks, which killed all forward movement, stalled momentum and introduced back-story that was not needed. When that happens I want to toss the damn book out the window. 

In my humble opinion, the last thing a writer wants to do is stop the story’s momentum in order to introduce back-story. There are good reasons for doing so, but if you’re going to do it, make sure that it is absolutely critical because 1) back-story is seldom as interesting as the current storyline the reader is caught up in so you risk boring the reader, and 2) once you’ve stopped the storyline action to give back-story, it is very difficult to jumpstart that momentum once you come back to it. 
So the question is, how and when to introduce flashbacks. 

Flashbacks are important. Generally, a writer wants to start a story as late in the action as possible. Sometimes s/he may want to start the story long after an event that is crucial to the storyline. So what do you do? You start the story later, but then have a flashback in order to present the needed event or back-story. But understand that you are taking the reader away from the story in order to give him/her background, and background is BORING, or at least not as interesting as the storyline.

So there are a couple of tricks to using flashbacks that help minimize the damage. First, flashbacks in the first half of a story are much less disruptive than the ones that occur late in the story, because at the beginning it is expected that the writer will present information with which to build the story on. As the story progresses, the pacing usually quickens, the momentum builds, and the reader wants to get to the end of the story to find out what happens. So if you halt the momentum near the end, you risk pissing off the reader. So always try to introduce back-story early. 

Another tip is to keep the flashbacks as short as possible. Remember, you’re taking the reader away from the storyline, and the reader wants to find out what happens in the storyline. The longer you drag it out, the more you risk having a dissatisfied reader. 

So my personal rules of thumb when it comes to flashbacks are:
1) Use them only to introduce information CRITICAL to the story.
2) Avoid using any in the second half of the story.
3) Keep them as short as possible.