Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Writer's Dream Come True

When my first novel, Island Song, was published, I had a secret little dream that I would walk into a coffee shop or restaurant, and I see someone reading my book. For years, every time I walked into a place where gay men sat reading, I scanned all the books, hoping to find one of mine.  It’s been five long years from that first publication, and not once has that aspiration happened—until yesterday.

Herman and I were having lunch at a popular Mexican restaurant in Palm Springs and a man a few tables away sat reading a book while he ate his lunch. I couldn’t see the cover, and I didn’t think much of it, except that he was rather nice looking with a little salt and pepper at the temples. We finished our food, paid the bill, and left the building. While waiting on the sidewalk out front for Herman to unlock the car, the salt-&-pepper guy walked out of the restaurant. As he passed me, I notice he carried my Butterfly’s Child novel.  I was momentarily stunned.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m the author of your book. Would you like me to sign it?” Now it was his turn to be stunned. He ask me if I was really Alan Chin, in a doubting voice that showed he didn’t expect a Caucasian man to have to have my last name. I assured him I wrote the book, and we talked for twenty minutes while I signed his copy.

He told me he had already read Island Song and loved it, and had stopped by the bookstore that morning to sample another of my novels. The interesting part of our conversation came when he talked about how closely he identified with the protagonist in Island Song. In that novel, Garrett moves to a lonely beach in Hawaii after losing his lover; Mr. Salt-&-Pepper had moved to Ensenada, Mexico after losing his lover. Garrett experiences something similar to a Buddhist’s version of enlightenment.  Mr. Salt-&-Pepper is a practicing Buddhist, and has had several such experiences. He told me my story gave him hope that he would, like Garrett, work through his loss and eventually discover a fulfilling life again. I swear his eyes were pooling with water as he spoke. He almost had me in tears.

I’ve been glowing from the experience since we parted. It is really extraordinary how your work, no matter what it is, can touch people in unexpected ways. This, IMHO, is the true joy of writing. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing Tip: Don’t Muddy the Waters

recently read and reviewed a 750 page, self-published novel that was written by a talented writer, and yet, I had a great deal of trouble muddling through the story. Not only was I not totally satisfied with the read, but the author contacted me after I posted my review to let me know I had missed several of the themes he had woven into the story. I freely admit that, although I caught some of the more obvious themes, several he mentioned did blow right over my head. He was very disappointed. It was a shame because much of his story was quite entertaining.

I’ve been thinking about his novel, my review of it, and the author’s response to my review for weeks now. The most prominent complaint that I expressed in the review was that the story was simply overwritten, and could benefit from cutting up to three hundred pages from the story, to tighten the storyline and focus more on the major themes.

After weeks of thought, I stand by my first analysis. I believe the main, and possibly the only, problem was the writer tried to encompass too much, too many ideas, into his story. He was so ambitious, trying to make his story grand, that many of the themes got lost in the shuffle.

I often do this myself when writing a first draft. I don’t realize what the major themes are until I’m deep into act three and all the subplots are coming together for the climax. But once the lightning bolt hits and I understand what my subconscious was striving for, then I’m ready for a major rewrite.

Once I know the premises, I write a theme statement, or two if there are multiple major themes, and I post them on my tack board over my desk. From that point on, the theme statements are my litmus test for cutting or keeping.

Particularly while writing the second draft, anything I find that doesn’t advance the major themes gets cut. Once while writing The Lonely War, I cut the first two hundred pages in half. The result was a cleaner read, and everything that was left did advance the themes.

My point is, be clear about what ideas the subtext of your story is creating, and keep the number of themes to a minimum. Two is good, one is better. In short, don’t muddy the waters by trying to do too much.

For my stories, I like to have two different subplots going on that are loosely linked, each with it’s own theme. At some point, usually deep into act three, I bring the two subplots together to pound home one overall premise. This approach is nothing new. In fact, writers have been using this technique since Rome was a village.

Again, the point is, know your theme, and cut anything that doesn’t progress that idea. Hopefully, you’ll end up with a tighter, cleaner manuscript.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Handcarved Elephants - a new story I'm giving away

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my work on this blog, and today I’d like to announce that I have a new story available on my website that I’m giving away.  The story is titled Handcarved Elephants, and is set in a Buddhist temple in Nai Harn, Thailand.

To receive a free pdf copy, simply go to click the ‘Free Story’ button, and enter your email address.

Blurb: When Corban loses everything because of his uncontrollable lust for teenaged boys, he finds that the only thing that can restore his humanity is selflessly helping another traveler in distress.  But the traveler in need is a sexy teen, just the kind of desert that Corban thinks of as ambrosia. Will he chose dignity or passion? Oh, if it were only that simple…

Excerpt: The humid sea breeze pounded my face as I staggered to the bow. I leaned against the railing where port and starboard forged a spearhead to cleave the cerulean plain, and with my back to the ship, I saw the immensity—sea and sky, and the sun hovering inches above the vanishing point. It silenced my racing mind and weighed on my chest with such force that I struggled to intake air. Shouts echoed from behind me, angry and belligerent, but they no longer mattered. Their rage was directed at me, but they would have to sort it out themselves. All I could think of now was how to lose myself in that gigantic yellow disk as it touched the water. I stared at the sun until my eyes burned and I had to look away, anywhere but behind me. Due east I saw a small and insignificant slash of color on the horizon that I knew must be the island of Phuket, Thailand. The passenger yacht under my feet dipped, plunging down then up, yet the island stayed its course, became the only solid, immovable point of reference in my world.

My eyes locked on that strip of land as I stepped back from the railing, spread my feet across the teak planks, and leaned into the wind. I raised my arms like angel wings, as if I were a second jib, balancing resistance against gravity until it felt like I was soaring above the ship’s mainsail, leaving my sordid past behind and vaulting over virgin territory. It felt epic, a sensation of freedom I’d never experienced before. My feet, however, never left the deck.

The island was not our ship’s destination, but at that moment I knew it held some power over me, a place that could either free or kill me. Perhaps in my case death was the only freedom. The unknown quantity of ‘X’ in the equation of existence.

Below decks, the incensed voices grew in volume. At the same time I heard the sandpaper scuff of deck shoes trundling toward me, and realized it must be the captain. I glanced over my shoulder to confirm what I already knew. Captain Mike MacDougal had a large, unattractive head, and his body was as stout and chunky as a Shetland pony. He was a swarthy man in his mid-fifties, affable and rapaciously lusty for someone his age. I knew that for a fact because I had shared his cabin—his bunk—since the day he hired me as first mate of The Wanderbird seven months earlier. He wore khaki cargo pants and a blue denim shirt unbuttoned to his belly, and just then, he was panting, sweating, and wildeyed. Captain Mike was black Irish, and when his temper was up, his face boiled a scalded red.

“Leave me the hell alone,” I hissed through clenched teeth.

“Corban,” Mike said with a level voice, “come below and tell those miserable Christian bastards that this is all some mixup, that you never touched Jason Starling.”

“I said leave me be, and for god sakes button your shirt.”

“Corban, you can’t ignore this. Jason is underage. His father is demanding that we put in at Patong tonight so he can hand you over to the authorities. If you’re convicted, it means ten to twenty years in a Thai prison, and you can’t imagine what kind of hell that is.”

The ship steadily sailed toward land, and Phuket began to take shape, the edges soft and muted, the colors more distinct. I realized Mike had already decided to make harbor. Fear settled in my gut like fine silt. “Unlock the liquor cabinet,” I croaked, “I need a stiff belt.”

“That won’t do any good,” Mike said. “If you start drinking now, you won’t stop. It’ll be just like the last time.” He paused in the same instant that the voices below hushed. All I could hear was my heart beating in reckless, liquid gushes and the wind streaming past my ears. “If you won’t tell them, at least tell me. Did you fuck the kid?” When I didn’t answer he shouted, “Dammit, I need to know. Is it true?”
Was he playing the responsible captain of a third-rate cruise ship, protecting his passengers, or was he simply a jealous lover? Did it even matter which? I knew already that he and I could not go on as before. After feasting on ambrosia, how could I possibly return to the swill he offered?

The deck pitched and I had to seize the railing to stay on my feet. Mike grabbed my waist, trying to steady me, but I couldn’t stand to have him touch me now, not after what had happened. I shoved him away.

A wail floated up from below, sounding vaguely like a wounded hyena. It had to be Mrs. Starling, Jason’s mother. That three-hundred-pound medusa could turn a man to stone with a single glance. Her voice ran up the scale until it was so high it could only be detected by bats.

“A drink, dammit. I need it to steady my nerves.”

Mike turned to one of the Malaysian deck hands. “Noi, fetch a Singha, chop chop!” The boy took off along the deck.

“Beer? Might as well be mother’s milk.” I needed something industrial strength to battle the demons that young Jason had whipped up in my gut, not to mention the visions of Luke now circling my head. This was not a case of merely dabbling with a teenager, this was the weight of a decade of mistakes crashing down on my shoulders, crushing me.

Mike grabbed my arm. “Fifteen years I’ve been takin’ out parties, from Shanghai to Calcutta, and this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.” He obviously wanted to say more, but his voice gave out.

I saw Mr. Starling crawl from the hatch. He and his wife led a sizable congregation and a Christian high school in the heartland of Oklahoma. Pretentious assholes, both of them. The whole damned party, all eleven of them, were a football squad of pious, Republican bitches.

I glanced into Mike’s eyes. “You’ve got to help me. Tell these mealy-mouthed twits that I’m a man of the cloth, ordained by the Catholic Church, and a servant of God himself. Tell them I could never do such a thing to an innocent boy.”

“Shit, Corban, you haven’t worn the collar in six years, and besides, Catholic priests lost their currency on that topic decades ago. Everyone knows you all diddle boys every chance you get.”

Noi ran up with an open bottle. I pressed it to my lips and tilted my head back, guzzling beer so cold my chest burned all the way to my stomach. I kept swallowing until I tossed the empty bottle over the side.

“Why, Corban?” Mike asked, no demanded. “Why him?”

“Innocence, purity,” I said, searching for the truth within myself. “I love boys because they live outside the realm of cynicism and irony.”

“Christ, if you wanted chicken you could have had Noi or Pic. They’ve been wiggling their fannies under your nose since you came aboard. But no, you’ve got to chase after a paying customer, a lily-white, Baptist client. I mean, what the fuck!”
“Noi and Pic aren’t Luke. I saw something of him in this kid.”

“Right, that boy ruined you once, and you keep letting him drag you back down every time you stand up.”

“Perhaps I was seduced by Jason’s beauty. Surely that’s something you can understand.”

“Beauty is a whore, I like my freedom better. Once you’re rotting in a Thai prison, you’ll know exactly what I mean.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pictures of Herman and Me

While hiking the sand dunes of the Mojave, a friend, who also happens to be a fantastic photographer, snapped a few shots of my husband and me. I’m not at all photogenic, so whenever I see a really nice picture of me, I like to share.

In case you’re wondering who’s who, Herman is the better-looking one in the foreground.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Review: Irresistable Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions Of LGBT Politics by Urvashi Vaid

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Magnus Books, Oct. 2012
Pages: 220

The author has been a gifted and dedicated spokesperson for LGBT equality for several decades, and has been a sought-after guest lecturer for dozens of organizations and educational institutions working for diversity and justice for all. Nine of those presentations, some going back as much as twenty years, form the core of this book, which also includes a concise introduction and complete cites to studies and concepts quoted in her talks. 

Ms. Vaid's point is simple, really: The fight for LGBT equality should not attempt to operate in a vacuum apart from other battles for diversity and justice, including those tackling matters of race, gender, religion and economic class, which also should demand the attention of anyone fighting for equality based on sexual orientation. Her points are made in the context of today's culture and politics, and their impact on our diverse relationships and interactions. Her words engage the reader and provide realistic examples (and occasional humor) that make this an easier read than you would first anticipate. Five stars out of five. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Something Different

Rather than list all the things I'm thankful for on this day, like every other blog post, I'm going to do something different. Enjoy, and have a fantastic Thanksgiving.

Lies I’m Tired Of Hearing
-       America is the land of equal opportunity.
-       Same-sex marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, society or to children.
-       The GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility.
-       I've read the terms and conditions.
-       This will just take a minute.
-       I’ll email you and have you over for dinner.
-       I will keep this short and sweet.
-       The Bible is the Word of God.
-       You’re 60? Wow, I thought you were ten years younger.
-       I'm really sorry.

Lies I tell myself
-       I will never drink again.
-       I’m a better writer than so-and-so.
-       I don’t care if my books don’t sell a million copies. I write for the pleasure of writing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writing Tip - To Believe or Not To Believe

I read an interesting thread the other day on an online writers group I belong to. An author was complaining bitterly that a review she received from an online review blog was flawed because the reviewer admitted that he/she didn’t really like that genre, and couldn’t get into the story. The thing that I found most interesting was that the author chastised the reviewer for not being able to “suspend belief” and get into her story, placing all the blame on the reviewer. 

I’ve heard a lot over the years about the reader needing to “suspend belief” in order to enjoy a story, and I must say that I think it is pure bullshit. It’s as if the author expects the reader to flush all his/her experience and knowledge, to be able to enjoy the tale being presented. 

I feel that it is not the suspension of belief that needs to happen, but rather, the author needs to make the reader believe. It is the writer’s job to skillfully pull the reader into the story, by making the reader believe what is presented is real. The writer must make it so convincing, that the reader has no choice but to go along.

Admittedly, no writer likes even a mediocre review, let alone a bad one. And of course, there are hordes of reviewers posting reviews who don’t have a clue about what makes a good read. But blaming the reviewer is the tool of an amateur writer.

If an author receives a negative review, it is up to the writer to evaluate the comments and determine what could make the story better, thus turning it into a learning experience. In my humble opinion, a writer should always be looking for any feedback in order to hone his/her craft. 

That said, I recently finished reading/reviewing a novel for a fellow writer at Dreamspinner Press. The story was somewhat interesting, but all the way through I kept seeing numerous issues that novice writers make, convincing me this was his debut story. I kept thinking, this is not a bad story for a first-time author. But as I finished the story, I read the author bio, and realized this author had written at least twelve other books! It became clear to me that this author is either a slow learner or he has never bothered to try to improve his craft. 

I believe each writer should spend as much time learning their craft as they do writing. How else can we become accomplished writers? And getting back to negative reviews, they are feedback on what didn’t work for that particular reviewer. That should be a clear signal as what areas the writer can concentrate on improving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Excerpt: Match Maker

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my work. Today I like to give you an excerpt of Match Maker, my novel about gay professional tennis players struggling against homophobia on tour.

I’m very proud to say that Match Maker was voted best contemporary fiction novel at the 2011 Rainbow Literary Awards.

My favorite fan, Fausto Unamzor,  made a video trailer for Match Maker, so I thought I’d share:

In the four years since being forced off the professional tour for being gay, Daniel Bottega has taught tennis at a second-rate country club. He found a sanctuary to hide from an unkind world, while his lover, Jared Stoderling, fought a losing battle with alcohol addiction to cope with his disappointment of not playing on the pro circuit.

Now Daniel has another chance at the tour by coaching tennis prodigy Connor Lin to a Grand Slam championship win. He shares his chance with Jared by convincing him to return to the pro circuit as Connor’s doubles partner.

Competing on the world tour is challenging enough, but Daniel and Jared also face major media attention, political fallout from the pro association, and a shocking amount of hate that threatens Connor’s career in tennis, Jared’s love for Daniel, and Daniel’s very life.

Match Maker
Dreamspinner Press (Sept 2010)


Connor Lin’s eyes grew large as the ball bounced short of the service line and sailed into his strike zone. He drew his racket back while planting his body in perfect balance; his arm swung, shoulders rotated, and his racket arched up through the ball and continued into a follow-through. The ball seemed to shriek from the impact as it sped bullet-fast toward the sideline. It scorched a pale mark on the green court a half-inch from the white line. But once again, it was the half-inch on the far side of the line. The lineman’s hand flew up, and he yelled, “Out.”

Connor dropped his racket and blinked at the mark, obviously not quite believing that he had lost another game.

Sweat dripped from his nose and chin.

He glanced at the chair umpire, attempting to coerce an overrule, but the chair awarded the game to Connor’s opponent.

Connor lifted the flap of his shirt, mopped his face, and bent to pick up his racket.

Watching him from the bleachers, it occurred to me that he must have dreamed about this match for most of his teenaged life. He had begun the first game with all the charisma of a champion poised for a run at brilliance, but the match had mutated into his worst nightmare. No brilliance materialized. Point by point, his entire being shriveled. His confidence and composure evaporated.

There was nothing anyone could do to reverse his downward spiral. I felt his frustration, a searing tightness in my abdomen. I had experienced the same ordeal many times, and even though half a decade had passed since then, I knew precisely how he felt: like a man alone at thirty thousand feet without a parachute. He was playing a quarterfinal match on the show court of an ATP satellite tennis tournament, set within the twisted pine forest between Carmel and the craggy cliffs of Big Sur. Five hundred shrieking, stomping fans packed the bleachers, and the loudest of them was Connor’s father, who sat three rows below me in the players’ section.

Cold fear. It first appeared in Connor’s eyes when he must have realized that, without the help of divine intervention, he would lose to a sixteen-year-old whose groundstrokes resembled a caveman swinging a club. His fear visibly gave birth to hatred, seething, and finally, humiliation. What Connor’s eyes showed eventually revealed itself in his body language. He looked like a pro tennis player—lean, agile body, good legs, coffee-colored hair gathered into a ponytail and covered with a ball-cap turned back to front, and the prettiest almond-shaped eyes I’d ever seen—but his slumped shoulders and marred facial expressions gave him away. He was out of his league, and he knew it.

I mentally listed his technical problems with a practiced eye. He had a decent first serve, but a weak, loopy second serve that my aunt Betsy could wallop for a winner. And when serving a critical point, his toss fell an inch or so shorter than normal, making him hit down on the ball and dump his serve into the net. He scrambled from side to side with the fluid steps that produce great footwork, but he seemed unsure of himself anywhere in front of the baseline, and three volleys hacked into the net and a botched overhead told me why.

Other than that, all his troubles lay between his ears. His problems stemmed from impatience. Instead of working the rallies while waiting for a weak ball to attack, he tried to crush winners from a defensive position. He won enough points to keep him pulling the trigger, but he also sprayed enough balls long, wide, and into the net to lose every game.

Nevertheless, even with his obvious technical and mental issues, he was thrilling to watch. His grace, explosive speed, and physical beauty sent chills up my spine. I was not in love with him. How could I be? I had never even met him. But I loved watching him play.

Connor lost the first set with a bagel, and his father shrieked hysterically. At first, he directed his outburst at Connor, telling the boy how to play, then at the opponent, for not being good enough to be on the same court with his son. The chair umpire notified security on his walkie-talkie, and we all waited while two uniformed men escorted Connor’s father from the bleachers. He screamed obscenities all the way to the parking lot.

Connor sat through the whole scene crouched forward on his bench with a white towel draped over his head. I would have bet fifty bucks that tears were flowing under that towel, but I doubt I would have found any takers.

Connor’s game continued to disintegrate through the second set. After a heated argument with the chair umpire over a questionable line call, he turned to flip the bird at a heckling spectator and received a code of conduct warning for “visible” obscenity. Two games later, another out call had him tomahawking his racket and unleashing a screech. It was a sound of pure anguish. I could only shake my head and watch as that temperamental athlete, with the sublime groundstrokes of a top-ten player, suffered a mental meltdown in public view.

I longed to cradle him in my arms and explain that it was only a game, that it should be fun. I wanted him to know that he didn’t need to battle against the pressures that the world threw at him, but he was in no condition to listen to anybody, least of all a has-been like me.

In Connor’s last service game, while he waited for his opponent to step to the baseline, he glanced into the stands. We made eye contact for a dozen seconds, and he looked right through me, as if to say, “Fuck you, you know-it-all bastard. At least I’m down here, still in the fight. What the fuck are you doing?” I saw something flicker deep within those beautiful eyes, something more than defiant pride. Or maybe I just chose to see. Even though his emotions had run away with him, I saw his courage as clearly as if he were holding up his heart like a metal shield.

I sucked in my breath and held it until he looked away.

Other work by Alan Chin
Novels: Island Song, The Lonely War, Simple Treasures, Butterfly’s Child
Screenplays: Daddy’s Money, Simple Treasures, Flying Solo ( articles)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Explore, Dream, Discover

My husband and I have been trying for months to decide if we should take another dream trip to SE Asia this winter. We’re considering Thailand, South China, India, and Burma. The problem is we’ve been living in our new home for less than a year, and we love it here. Also, winter is the best weather in the deserts of Southern California, the place we now call home. Still, we also love to travel and taste what different cultures have to offer.

We kept going back and forth, one day yes, the next no. There are still so many things we want to do to our house, and traveling would rob us of the time and money to get them done anytime soon. But then I came across the following quote:

Twenty years from now, you will be
more disappointed by the things that you
didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore.  Dream.  Discover.

~ Mark Twain

We all face choices in our lives, often small insignificant ones, sometimes huge life-shaking ones. Occasionally the choice is between taking action or not, between making a decision or not. Sometimes we put off the action or decision to a later date. But let’s not kid ourselves. No action is an action. No decision is a decision.

If you want to something to happen, if you want a life well lived, you have to make it happen. And often times that means sacrificing some things to gain others.

My partner and I have a choice: stay at home with our secure life, or risk everything for the chance at seeing more of the world. We chose to fly away from the safe home, to explore, dream, and discover, and I’m glad we did.

Herman and I will soon be too feeble for long, exhausting travel, and we’ll hopefully have plenty of time to enjoy our home once that day comes. But we are still energetic enough for a four-month trek through distant lands. If we don’t do it now, we will, no doubt, end up regretting it in years to come.

What things do you wish you had done? Travel? Write a book? Help build a house for some needy family? Adopt a child or a pet? What will you choose to do now that will let you explore, dream, and discover?

Don’t let circumstances decide for you. Make a decision today and take action.

Here’s to your life of discovery!