Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm Thankful For Being Born Gay

Living the last forty years as an openly gay man had brought me countless social challenges to overcome, opportunities to meet incredible people, and love from my fellow minority members. There is a bond between gay folks that I don’t see with the straight community. I love that bond, that feeling of being part of a family.

It’s been a fascinating life so far, and the last five years—with all this political change about gay rights—has made it a fascinating time to be gay.

Plus, I absolutely gag at the idea of being like everyone else. Most people are straight, which makes being straight ordinary. I think of being straight as being common, and I’ll take being uncommon any time. Sorry if that sounds condescending; I certainly don’t mean it that way. I simply love being different.

So on this day of giving thanks, I’ve taken a moment to celebrate my being gay, about being with my husband, and having lived the life I’ve lived.

Bless you all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Gift Of Giving

This season is a time when we pause to take stock, to give thanks for what we’ve accomplished, and try to share a bit of our gratitude, our gifts, ourselves with others.

Today, I received three emails from a fellow writer, Alan Barker, who lives near London and whom I met online a few years ago. Out relationship grew when Alan asked if I’d help him craft a story he was working on, a magical tale set in a place we both love, Italy. It was a charming story and I was happy to help. I told Alan right up front that I was very hard on writers and didn’t sugarcoat my opinions. To Alan’s credit (unlike some writers I’ve worked with) he was not looking for praise; he was only concerned with making the story the best it could be. We got on brilliantly, and he began giving me feedback on my stories as well.

In these three emails, he caught me up on all the happenings in his life, which seems full and brimming with allure, complete with interesting and colorful tidbits about his family and friends. He now has several stories being considered for publication at various publishers and magazines. He sent me samples of new work he’s now crafting.

I can’t help but feel a heartfelt gratitude for this friendship that has grown between us. It was a simple act of agreeing to read and comment on a writer’s work that led to a rewarding friendship that I feel will continue for decades. The camaraderie and encouragement I’ve received from Alan over the years far outweighs the effort I put into helping him with those stories.

So as I read those three emails, and look forward to reading the stories he attached to them, I was reminded once again that giving is perhaps the most worthwhile thing a person can do. The laws of Karma are alive and unfailing. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nineteen Years Together

Nineteen years ago today, standing atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, Herman and I exchanged rings and vowed that we would live as husband and husband for the rest of our lives.

Our friends and family were skeptical, the local bookmakers gave us slim odds, but our determination keeps growing every year.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


We all go through major life changes in careers, relationships, goals, finances, and even moods. Have you ever wondered how we get from one life cycle to the next? I believe we get there via transition periods, which can last hours to years. Transition phases can often be difficult and uncertain, and take more time than we expect or hope for.

As examples, I have one friend who lost his job over a year ago, and is still looking for work. I have three friends, two here in Palm Springs and one in the Bay Area, who lost their long-time partners several months back and they are finding it difficult to move on with their lives. I have another friend who is having trouble adjusting to retirement.

I’m currently experiencing a transition of sorts. Last week I completed a novel I’ve been developing, on and off, for the last three years. I normally celebrate the closure of a new book, but not this time. This time I’ve been deeply depressed, because so much of my life experience went into this story. It truly was a work of love, and now that it’s done I’m having a difficult time moving to the next project.

Society expects, and most of us have bought into this idea, that moving swiftly from one cycle to the next is a good thing. We want instant gratification and to move quickly. I’m convince that moving quickly to the next cycle robs us of time to reflect on where we’re coming from, and gives us no time for deep thought about which direction we want to tackle next. A transition period is a time to heal, and a time to plan, and we shouldn’t rush that.

Today I realized that my depression is a transition, and it’s taking much longer than I’m used to. I also realized that this change is important, and I need to experience it, let it have its own time. I find myself thinking a lot, reevaluating my goals and desires as a writer. I’m clarifying what my next cycle, as a writer, will look like.

So my point in this post is: If you’re caught in a transition phase, don’t kick yourself too hard if it’s taking longer than you expected to sort through it. Let it take as long as it needs. Life is not a race.

On the other hand, I don’t believe in wallowing in pain. If you’re ready for change to happen and know where you want to go, then take action. Make it happen. And you do that by taking a few steps in the desired direction, and then a few steps more, repeat, repeat.

Pretty soon, you’re off and running.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Writing Tip: Too Much Dialog Can Spoil the Soup

I love dialog. It brings one close to the characters, lets the reader know how the character’s mind thinks, reacts, persuades and complains. Dialog is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox. I am of the opinion, that when it is overused, it tends to lose all its power. 

I’ve recently worked with two other authors, giving them suggestions on how to punch up their stories. In both cases, I felt they were doing too much with dialog. 

The first author started his murder mystery at the crime scene, but within a few pages, his team of detectives gathered in a room at the police station where they proceeded to do nothing but talk to each other for twelve pages. All the backstory was told through dialog during those pages. I can’t explain how excruciatingly BORING those pages were to read. My advice to this writer was, if he must use dialog to bring out these facts, then do it at the crime scene while the detectives are looking for clues. That way, they are doing something. There is action going on while they are talking. 

The second author did something similar, trying to tell the story mostly through dialog. I’m sorry, I told him, this simply doesn’t work. You’re not writing a play, you’re writing a novel. You need action to move the story forward.

Dialog should not be used to tell the story. It should be used to punctuate the action in a story. Think of dialog as TNT. You want small controlled detonations in your prose in order to highlight certain ideas or actions or character traits. 

In short, try to tell the story in the narrator’s voice. Don’t make your characters tell the story. 

The other thing I’d like to point out about dialog is the way most people speak. If you pay attention while people talk, you’ll find that most people use very short bursts of dialog, fewer than ten words, before someone else responds and takes up the conversation. So having your characters constantly making long-winded soliloquies may not be the best option. Again, in my humble opinion, short burst are more entertaining and more in tune with human nature, thus it’s more believable.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Excerpt: Chapter 1, The Lonely War

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my work on this blog. Today I’d like to present the opening of my novel, The Lonely War.

Published by Dreamspinner Press


Like most war novels, The Lonely War envelops all that is unique to war, the horror of battle, overcoming fear, the cruelty of soldiers, the loyalty and camaraderie of men caught in a desperate situation. Yet, it stands alone in two important ways. First, it is a passionate story about a tender love developing between an officer and an enlisted man, revealing a rare and dignified portrait of a couple struggling to satisfy desire within the confines of the military code of conduct. Even more importantly however, it describes the heart-wrenching measures of how much one man will sacrifice to save the life and reputation of the man he loves.

The Pilgrim

It has been said that “Common souls pay with what they do, nobler souls with that which they are. And why? Because a profound nature awakens in us by their actions and words, by their very looks and manners.

March 20, 1941
0800 hours

In the spring of 1941, the Japanese army surged across the border from China to extend their bloody campaign to all of Southeast Asia. As war crept south, the French, English, and Americans scattered throughout Indochina hastened to Saigon, where they boarded ocean liners bound for their homelands. Meanwhile, the Japanese army massed on the outskirts of the city, poised for another victorious assault. The city held its breath.

Andrew Waters pursued his father across a bustling wharf, still wearing his boarding school uniform and clutching a bamboo flute. The ship that loomed before him was a floating city—mammoth, with numerous passenger decks and topped by two massive stacks that muddied the sky with exhaust. It had been berthed at the inland port on a tributary of the Mekong for a full week, but Andrew saw the crew now scurrying to get underway.

The wharf trembled slightly, and he heard the rat-tat-tat of gunfire over the sirens blaring from the center of the city.

Andrew’s father sported a tussore-silk suit of superlative cut and a Panama hat tilted so the brim hid his right eye. His tall figure marched purposefully towards the black-and-white behemoth, and his normally long gait lengthened with noticeable desperation.

Andrew, who was nearly eighteen, paused and panted from an acute nervy rush. He searched the sky for planes. They were still beyond his field of vision, but the drone of bombers echoed through the cloud cover. The rumble of explosions grew loud, and the air carried the faint stench of sulfur.

He hurried on, jostling through a mélange of beings—Caucasians dressed in fine western clothes (like his father), rich Chinese in their silks, merchants in long-sleeved jackets, coolies wearing only tattered shorts. Voices all around him shouted while the harsh twang of a military band playing “Auld Lang Syne” vaulted above that unbridled confusion of humanity.

Directly behind him trotted an aged wisp of a monk, who wore the traditional orange robes and held a string of wooden prayer beads. Each bead was the size of a marble and had the chalky gray coloring of Mekong silt. The monk’s thumb deliberately ticked past each bead, one after another, like a timer counting down the seconds. Behind the monk came the porters carrying four steamer trunks.

At the gangway, Andrew’s father told him to quickly make his goodbye then sprinted up the ramp with the porters in tow.

Surrounded in a press of bodies, the youth reverently embraced the monk. The old man wrapped his arms around Andrew and drew him nearer. The monk’s breath tickled his neck, which helped to dissolves his anxieties.

Using the native tongue of South China, he whispered, “Master, I’ll come home as soon as I can.”

The old monk’s face contracted, as if Andrew had posed a difficult question.
“Andrew, war and time will whisk away everything that you love. This is our farewell.”

The youth wiped away a tear that broke free from his almond-shaped eyes and slid down his amber-colored cheek.

“Master, I will strive to apply everything you have taught me.”

“No, Andrew. You will forget my lessons. Such is the nature of youth. But remember this—since you are American by birth, they will surely draft you. So, on the battlefield, resist the hate that is born from fear. Nurture only love in your heart, Andrew. To love all beings is Buddha-like and transcends us from the world of pain, for love is the highest manifestation of life. To experience love’s full bounty is life’s only purpose, so tread the moral path before you and sacrifice yourself to love. All else is folly, a dream of the ego.”

Baffled, Andrew replied, “Master, I do not understand about sacrificing myself to love.”

The old monk’s eyes opened wide and his lips spread into a grin.

“Meditate on what I have said. Understanding will come when you are ready.” He methodically bundled his string of beads into a ball roughly the size and shape of a monkey’s skull and forced them into Andrew’s left pants pocket. “Keep these beads to remind yourself of our time together.”

The pressure against Andrew’s thigh felt awkward, and before the monk pulled away, Andrew became distracted, thinking of how fortunate this man was to be wise and compassionate in the midst of the impending carnage. He realized it took impeccable courage to maintain one’s morality during perilous times, courage that he himself did not possess.

He had always assumed he would live a quiet, studious and spiritual life under this old monk’s guardianship, and eventually become the old man who stood before him. That image was shattered when war turned the world on its head. Now, all Andrew could think about was getting on that ship and sailing to safety, if such a thing existed.

The ship’s whistle cut the air, long and terrible and loud enough to be heard throughout the city. The monk pressed his hands together in front of his forehead and bowed, silently, finally.

Another blast from the ship’s whistle sent Andrew running up the gangway, leaving the earthy world of South China behind.

He joined his father on the first-class deck. Entombed in steel— heavy riveted plates of metal underfoot that curved into walls—he jammed together with the other passengers at the rail, peering down at the apprehensive faces. Their body heat added to the stifling temperature. Sweat dribbled down his neck, and he had to gasp to get enough air.

Lines fell away, and the gangway was hauled aboard. Tugs pushed the ship into the middle of the channel and withdrew, leaving the ship to the whim of the current.

Andrew stared straight down at the dense, opaque surface of the river. It reflected the cloudy sky, making the water seem gray rather than the usual brown, yellowish streaks of oil running with the current. The flat moving surface seemed strangely alive, carrying him along, muscling him downstream, as if it were an overwhelming force whose motives he could only guess at.

On the dock, Asian women held their infants over their heads for a last look. Handkerchiefs waved. The band played on.

He saw the first planes against the darkening sky, droning above the city. Explosions grew even louder, and from his perch on the first-class deck, he saw sections of the city erupting. He turned northeast towards his boarding school. Flames. That entire section of the city was engulfed in fire, as if hell had opened its mouth to swallow it whole.

“Clifford,” he whispered.

A searing stab of regret lodged in his chest. He had been forced to abandon the object of his adolescent love, and he imagined himself dashing through the chaotic streets to reach the boarding school. There was still time, he thought. They could disappear into the forest. They could live on, together. He wanted to perform that fatal act of love, but he wondered if he could really muster the courage to defy his father.

Reluctantly—at least, it felt that way to him—he climbed onto the railing to dive overboard, because he realized the love he shared with Clifford wasn’t a trifling adolescent crush at all but rather a deep and consuming love. A love that had somehow been lost in the joys of youth like water in dry sand, and was only now realized.

His father pulled him back, forcing him to stay and suffer what felt like an unquenchable loss. Locked in his father’s embrace, he entered a narrow canyon of desolation, knowing the days and hours and minutes ahead would be heartbreaking, and that he might not be strong enough to endure it.

The ship’s siren sounded three blasts for its farewell salute. The engines throbbed, and propellers chewed the river. The noise swelled to a din like the end of the world.

The passengers on deck could no longer hide their sorrow. Everyone wept, not only those people parting but the onlookers as well. Even the dockhands and porters shed tears.

The ship traveled downstream as the military band played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

To Andrew, the orange-robed figure crushed within the throng on the dock seemed at odds with the fires raging across the city. He now fully understood the monk’s words—that war would steal everything he loved, that a way of life, their way of life, had perished. Pain flooded his whole being, like that of a baby prematurely ripped from its protective womb.

He pulled away from his father’s embrace and staggered farther down the deck to cry without being seen. He positioned himself at the rail, one arm folded around a steel support beam and his face pressed against the hot metal.

People on the wharf seemed to hesitate, then regretfully turned and scurried away. He watched the smudge of orange, scarcely visible and standing at the edge of the pier, utterly still, quiescent, until the harbor faded from view and the land disappeared as well, slowly swallowed beneath the curve of the earth.