Thursday, March 28, 2013

SCOTUS Hearings and the Church

Everyone I know, gay and straight, are over-the-top excited this week because of the Supreme Court hearings on Prop H8 and DOMA. So in all this excitement, I thought I would chime in with a few thoughts.

From what I’ve heard so far the rightwingers’ only arguments to keep DOMA and reject same-sex marriage is Christian ideals on homosexuality and procreation.  All they can do is thump their bibles. It’s their only leg to stand on because, of course, both Prop H8 and DOMA are pure discrimination against gay people. No surprise there.

What I find puzzling is the Church’s stance on the subject. The question popped into my head, How would Jesus vote if he were on the bench. According to the New Testament, Jesus never said a discouraging word against homosexuality. His message was unswervingly to love thy neighbor, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So the Church, all Christians, have an opportunity here to act Christ-like by being compassionate, yet most refuse. They prefer to pass judgment, punish, and pretend that they are somehow better than gay people.

Being a Buddhist, I learned early on that sitting in judgment and punishing are a sickness caused by the duality of the human mind. It is the very thing that Buddhist’s struggle to overcome. It is the ego desperately trying to build itself up by putting everyone else down. It is the human condition when people break away from a holy state of oneness with God. My point is that by embracing same-sex marriage and demanding that all people have the same rights would, in fact, help Christians to become closer with their God. Yet, they choose to distance themselves from Christ’s teachings.

Once gay people have all the rights as everyone else, once gay is ‘normal’ (or at least not abnormal), who will these haters turn their animosity on next? Which group will they single out as inferior so that they can continue to inflate their own egos? I’ve always thought that gay people were the bottom rung of the hate ladder, but I suspect now that I’ve underestimated haters. Now I’m confident they will find some group. I simply have no idea which one.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Tip: Conflict within a Romance Story

I was recently involved in a writing class put on by Bold Strokes Books, and they had an interesting approach to writing conflict within romance stories.

When writing a romance, many writers need to rethink their entire approach to the story. A romance is NOT about two people who meet and fall in love. It is about how two people who are perfect for each other, can't find a way to be together.

When writing romance, don't think:
I write stories about people falling in love.

I create love-starved characters and torture them for 300 pages, making them (and readers) think that they'll never have true love. And then in the end, I give them what they need.

Then when you begin to write, START WITH THE CONFLICT, not the characters, not the setting, not the backstory, not anything else. Too often, authors start with interesting character backgrounds and then try to build conflict from those characters. The conflict is the hook, start with that.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Dharma of Writing

This cartoon may not seem all that funny, but it is a lesson I need to keep reminding myself of, so I keep in on my desktop.

You see, when I started writing, it was all about me. I wanted to be a good writer. Then I became really egocentric and wanted to be a great writer. It took a few years before my Buddhist training kicked in and I understood my error.

Writing stories is not about me becoming anything! It is about crafting the best stories possible. The focus is on the stories, the characters, and the craft of writing. The focus is on the day-to-day process of creating, which becomes a form of meditation.

That process, that meditation, is not about becoming a better, wiser, holier person. It’s not about becoming anything. It is all about the joy in experiencing the process.

So every once in a while I need a little nudge to help me focus on simply writing stories, without worrying about how good I am.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Review: The Master by Colm Toibin

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 338

Colm Toibin captures the mind and heart of Henry James, a novelist and playwright born into one of America’s first intellectual families two decades before the Civil War.  James left his country to live with the privileged artists and writers in Paris, Rome, Venice and London. He lived the simple, lonely life that most dedicated writers live, often locked in a room with typewriter and his imagination. And when in public, he studied people and situations for inspiration for his stories.

Toibin captures the loneliness and longing, the joys and despair of a man wedded to his art, but never to a lover. Toibin suggests that James was gay, but paints a picture of a man who never resolved his sexual identity, and whose attempts at intimacy inevitably failed. Time and again, James, who is considered the master of psychological subtlety, is incapable of understanding his own heart and passionate longings.

Toibin doesn’t tell a story of James’ life so much as he paints a detailed portrait of the writer’s perspective on life, love, death, and art. Toibin paints this portrait with supple, exquisitely modulated brush strokes that I found emotionally tense and moving.

I was reminded somewhat of how Michael Cunningham captured the mind and soul of Virginia Woolf in his novel The Hours. In the same way, through the eyes and heart of the artist, the reader sees the mystery of art itself. I found it utterly brilliant.

With superlative prose and a deep understanding of the writer’s life, Colm Toibin demonstrates that he, too, is a master.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gay Pride turns into Gay Boredom

I was recently part of an online conversation dealing with the changing face of the gay movement, in particular the extinction of gay bookstores, and what impact, if any, that will have on the future of young gay men and women.

One member of the discussion mentioned a book, THE MISSING MYTH, which claims that the interest level for young gay people in what we all worked for, gay liberation, is approaching an all time low. 

The book claims there is little interest on the part of the college age generation, as a whole, and suggests they are bored or unconcerned with the issue of being gay, don't particularly find the metaphors of Gay Pride all that meaningful, and are tired of the brand.

I found that rather shocking considering all the political debates and fighting at the state and national levels over gays in the military and same-sex marriage. I was under the impression that interest in identifying as gay and advancing gay rights was at an all time high. Goes to show how little I know.

I think this could be an encouraging sign for the gay rights movement. This tells me that young people feel they are no longer discriminated against. They feel they can live open lives and not fear any reprisals from those hateful elements still lurking in our society.

When you think about it, once we’ve won nation-wide same-sex marriage rights, seamless integration into ‘normal’ is the logical next step—having “being gay’ no longer a relevant issue. That is what we’ve been fighting for. I personally feel we have a few more battles to win before we’re there, but I’m growing optimistic.

What does that mean for writers like myself who write for a gay audience? How deeply we look into our gay lives has a lot to do with how hard we try to produce meaning to attach to gay experience, meaning attached in a way that will be relevant to the youth now, and as they age. 

Attitudes are rapidly changing, and we must look deeper into that gay experience and into the integration of gay people into normal, if we intend to produce anything meaningful to this next generation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Writing Tip - Write More To "Give," Than To "Get"

This is an overall practice and approach to writing (and life) that is perhaps the hardest, but most important thing I have learned in my twelve-plus years plugging away at the blank page.  It's ironic that it seems as though the only way to really achieve success is to put your energy into continuously bettering yourself, your craft and your work, and trusting that the rest will take care of itself. 

This not from the perspective of one who has mastered it (far from it), and preaches "perfection" (which is impossible), but as one who has learned this lesson over and over, and continues to see it as a best practice.

A writer’s job is to work on their writing until it is viable in the marketplace.  When it is, there is no stopping it - doors open when they didn't before.  When it doesn't, there is little one can do to successfully "market" it.

Of course, it’s hard to know when we're ready, or how close we are.  There are no hard and fast rules on this - it is all subjective.  I think that writers tend to underestimate the amount of continuous forward motion that is required for any project (and ourselves) to be "viable," and focus instead on trying to market what we've done - to see what we can "get," if you will.  I believe our energies are always better expended on diligent creative progress - with professional feedback and guidance, if possible.

We all struggle with this (self included) - no matter how many years we've been doing it.  We're focused on getting the sale, getting the positive reaction, getting our agent to do something, etc.  Getting, getting, getting tends to be our obsession.  But more focus on getting almost never seems to have the desired effect.

However, continuous focus on giving - as in bettering and improving what you're offering to the world, staying upbeat and open, never giving up, seeking to grow and serve – is, I believe, a winning approach.  I'm not saying don't try to move your career forward.  I suggest taking every step that seems right to you at the time, especially if you can do it in a positive way - be it query letters, contests, pitch fests, etc.  My point is that the real business of building a writing career is not about that.  It's about the writing, the craft, the creative process, and your own growth; so that what you have to give is something others find huge value in.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jurassic Park, For Real

Herman and I saw something interesting while strolling through Bangkok’s Lumpini park. Several six-foot-long Monitor Lizards. There are about 200 of them living in the lake and canals in the center of the park. Some checking online confirmed that they can grow up to ten feet long.

Standing there watching them, I could hear the music of Jurassic Park running through my head.

We were both shocked that these creatures roam wild in the park because their saliva contains lethal bacteria that will infect the wound should they happen to bite...nasty stuff...can be lethal!

A while back there was a brouhaha to remove the lizards because one fell out of a tree and injured the woman sitting under it. The local citizens made a loud stink that it was the woman’s fault for not being more cautious about where she parked her behind. Bottom line: the lizards got to say in the park.

Had that happened in the USA, the woman would have sued the park for two hundred million dollars and settled for sixty million, the park would have went bankrupt and the taxpayers would have bailed it out, and the lizards would have been exterminated. 

You gotta love Thai people.