Thursday, January 30, 2014

I May Have Stepped into Trouble This Time

Herman and I arrived in Bangkok three days ago. We love Thailand, even when they are having government protests, which has been the norm for the last several years. Our plan was to stay in this country for two months before moving on to Malaysia.

The good new: Weather is very nice here with temps in the low 80s and humidity in the 60s. The recent protests have turned many tourists away, and there are very few travelers in town.

The bad new: We assumed the protests would be going on in a different part of the city (near Parliament where they always happen) and we could avoid all the trouble. Ha! The protests camps are in various parts of the city, one right outside our hotel. A block away, government troops have setup sandbags and a makeshift outpost. Not much going on but speeches all day and people lingering about. Most of the city operates normally but there are a few major streets closed, making the already messy traffic a nightmare. So far, there has been sporadic violence, and at least four people have died.

The worse news: The protests are a means to delay the elections, which the liberal protesters will surely lose. The election is Sunday, and looks like it will happen. The protesters are threatening to close down the entire city and disrupt voting my any means possible. Some people are expecting military intervention, but are not betting on which side the troops will come down on. If there is a coup, we could be in for some trouble. Others are predicting a civil war, pitting the Bangkok liberals against the rural conservatives.

My better sense is telling me to leave town, but my curiosity is making me stay. I mean, how many military coups come along to experience in one’s lifetime? Wish us luck.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Writing Tip: Dialog Is About Attitude

Yesterday, I was having coffee with James Dalessandro, a noted screenwriter, and we mostly talked about dialog. He said, “Dialog is the characters passing information to the reader, with attitude. And attitude is more important than the information.”

The best example he gave was a prison movie where Clint Eastwood, a prisoner, was meeting with the warden:

Warden: “What was your childhood like?”
Eastwood: “Short.”

The subtext, of course, is that Eastwood’s character found himself on the streets fending for himself at a very early age. But more important, is the attitude that comes across with that one word answer, which says: “Screw you. Why are you asking me these bullshit questions? Mind your own f*&%ing business!”

That is a lot to say with just one word. It speaks volumes about the character, yet it is just one word, five letters and a period. Brilliant.

So, when thinking about what your character will say, give even more thought to how s/he will say it. What are they feeling, what are they trying to get at that moment. It’s all about attitude and impact. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gifts Not Yet Given and Other Tales of the Holidays by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Circumspect Press
Pages: 186

Kergan Edwards-Stout has complied a collection of fourteen short stories all centered around different holidays.  Yet, these stories are not about holidays, but about turning points in character’s lives, where the emotions and magic of the holidays push these characters past those turning points. These are tales of personal awakenings, where dreams are achieved, hope is found, life is cherished. Many are touching, others sad.

Like all short-story anthologies, I found this work a bit of a mixed bag, connecting with some stories, some characters, and not others. I felt the author’s talent shown brightest with Glenbourne, Il, where a woman, Sarah, struggles to gain acceptance from her in-laws. And in The Old Rugged Cross where a mother leaves her home in Alabama to be near her son in L.A. I found these characters genuine, and their stories thought provoking.

The author’s prose is well-paced and beautifully written, yet I often felt there was simply too much telling, as apposed to showing, and I also found the author’s habit of head-hopping a bit distracting.

As much as I enjoyed each of these stories, I feel that this collection does not live up to the promise that this talented author exhibited so eloquently in his first novel, Songs For The New Depression. Still, this anthology is a worthwhile read.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Worst Sin of All???

I attended a dinner party last night, and the conversation turned to sin, specifically, which particular sins are the most horrendous.

My answer: Lying. Because lying allows all other sins to exist. It is the cornerstone of all sin, because it allows people to think they can get away with murder, literally.

People are taught to lie in order to avoid punishment. But if they couldn’t lie, then they would learn early on not to do anything they didn’t want the whole world knowing about.

Imagine a world where nobody could lie. Imagine a society where you could trust everyone to tell the truth.
- There would be little or no crime because all the police would have to do is simply ask the criminals if they were guilty.
- We wouldn’t need courts.
- People couldn’t cheat on their spouses without having their partner know about everything.
- Companies would have to declare what kinds of damage they were doing to the environment and to their customers.
- Politicians would have to declare who and what they really represent.
- The 1% would have to pay their share of taxes.

I read an article on the web a week or so ago that claimed we, our society, no longer trust each other. We don’t trust political leaders, religious leaders, companies, news broadcasters, even our next-door neighbors. Lying has gone beyond epidemic to become the norm. We feel we have to close ourselves off to protect ourselves from literally everyone. That, I believe, will be the downfall of our society. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Writing Tip: Don’t expose your offensive prejudices

I just finished a novel by a new author. I enjoyed the first thirty or forty pages, but then I noticed a pattern developing. All female characters were shown as strong, intelligent, and resourceful. However, all (and I do mean ALL) the men were either lying cheating bastards, spineless buffoons, or drug addicts who couldn’t tie their shoelaces without some woman there to show them how.

It became clear to me that this woman writer had huge emotional issues with men.

I found her treatment of women vs. men characters sexist and offensive. It colored the rest of the story, making it impossible for me to enjoy the book, or to take her seriously as a writer. I did finish the story, but only because I had agreed to review it, and I can state I will never bother with another of her books.

I have no issue with someone writing a story geared for women. Neither do I take issue with flawed characters, male or female. In fact, flawed characters tend to be the most interesting. But I do resent authors who blatantly attack a group of people by portraying them all as flawed, with little or no redeeming qualities.

After my first novel, Island Song, was published, I read through the story and realized I had presented a Christian preacher as totally flawed, a very unsavory character. I was more than a little mortified to realize I had let my resentment of the Church so blatantly color my story.  In my second novel, which also had a clergyman, I went out of my way to make that person a sympathetic character.

The writers I’m most impressed with try to show a fine balance of empathetic qualities and flawed qualities in each and every character, for their heroes and villains alike.  I think it’s one of the key traits of good storytelling.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Excerpt: Daddy’s Money by Alan Chin

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today I’d like to share an excerpt from one of my favorite romances, Daddy’s Money.

Purchase links:
Dreamspinner Press:

Everyone needs a little help now and then. For gay Muslim Sayen Homet, that help first came from his understanding mother, who brought him to America from the Middle East. Now that he’s working his way through Stanford Medical School, his help comes from a secret sugar daddy. But Sayen might be able to end their arrangement soon now that he has a boyfriend he can depend on, A student Campbell Reardon. Campbell is more than willing to support Sayen, even if it means coming out to his conservative family.

But when Campbell takes Sayen home to meet his parents, everything falls apart. Campbell doesn’t realize how his boyfriend pays for school… and neither of them knows Sayen’s sugar daddy is Campbell's father, Blake.

While everyone involved struggles to overcome their shock, it becomes obvious Blake will do anything to keep Sayen. Campbell and Sayen love each other, but in the face of so much hurt and betrayal, love might not be enough to hold them together.

Campbell took a deep, Adam’s-apple-bobbing swallow of wine, and it tasted like courage. He pulled his inhaler from his pocket, gave himself a blast, and plowed into the living room. He found Sayen sprawled on the couch with the relaxed sleekness of a big game cat sleeping under a shade tree. Campbell ambled to the tuner and flipped on some music, easing the volume nob down several notches. He turned off one of the room lamps on his way to the couch, and settled well within Sayen’s gravitational pull. He wanted so desperately to lean into this man, to lift that pout into a smile with a kiss. What is it, he thought, that makes a pouting face so damned sexy?

“Tell me more about this mysterious boyfriend,” Campbell said.
“We’re back on that subject? How boring.”
“So bore me, I don’t mind. What’s the attraction?”

Sayen took a long swallow of wine. “He’s a decent guy who helps me make ends meet.”

“You’re a kept boy?”

“Look, Cam, my middle name is Levon for a reason. I was named after that Elton John song because I was literally born a pauper, to a pawn, on Christmas Day.”

“I love it when you call me Cam. My little sister is the only one who ever calls me that.”
“You know, it’s all so easy for you rich guys. You don’t have a clue.”
“I’m not rich, my parents are.”

The sound system switched songs. The soft warble of Shane Mack singing “Lie to Me” floated on the air. Campbell shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position, and not finding one.

“Right,” Sayen said, “you’re one of those lucky trust-fund fucks who uses daddy’s money to get whatever you want. You just point and take. But I’ve worked my ass raw to get to a position where I’m set. A few more years of grubbing, and I’ll be one of those takers. Until then, I’m not rocking the boat.”

Campbell picked up a remote control and notched down the lighting to a romantic glow. “Not rocking the boat? Hom, dating a married man is like standing in a leaking rowboat, for God sakes. I’m offering you the QE2.”

“Modesty so becomes you.”
“Are you this hard on everyone who falls in love with you?”
“Love?” Now it was Sayen’s turn to shift around, looking for a more comfortable spot. Campbell leaned closer, giving no route to escape. Sayen looked away, his expression complicated, unreadable.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed,” Campbell said.

Sayen took another deep swallow of wine. “I don’t even know what love means, and neither do you. You see something you want and you take. Well, guess what, I’m not a something.”

“I do know about love.” Campbell grinned while repouring Sayen’s glass. “You go all out for what you want, you don’t let a lack of money stop you from your dream, and you’re the kind of man who joins DWB and learns to deal with your phobia about blood in order to help your people.” He looked up from filling his own glass. “You’re special, and that intrigues me. Everything about you intrigues me. Isn’t that important?”

Sayen cleared his throat. “Before my mother died, I promised her I would become someone respectable, someone everybody looked up to. Right now, for me at least, that’s all that’s important.” Sayen pulled a white monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket. It unfolded and hung between them.

Campbell smiled. “You’re surrendering?”
“This is yours, remember?”
Campbell pushed it back. “Consider it the first of many presents I’ll lavish on you.”
“Wow, Mr. Big Spender gives me a handkerchief. I’m so impressed.”
“You should be. You see that monogram? My mother hand-stitched that. It’s the only thing she ever made for me, and she only made two. So you see, I’m giving you something I cherish.”

Sayen pressed the cloth to his cheek. “Wow, I am impressed. But what would you tell your lily-white, Catholic parents? They’ll think I’m a terrorist.”

Sayen’s question somehow sounded like a capitulation. Campbell felt something reckless well up inside him; a sense of euphoria filled him to overflowing. He set down his wine, inched closer, and slid one arm over Sayen’s shoulder. “I’m going to help you fulfill that promise you made to your mother, even if it hair-lips the Pope. Here’s the plan.” He unbuttoned the top button of Sayen’s shirt. “Step one: admit that you would rather be with me than some old married dude who’s afraid to be seen with you.” Campbell briefly kissed Sayen’s shoulder while Sayen closed his eyes and spun the wine in his glass round and round as if he were turning a prayer wheel.

Campbell unbuttoned the next button and found a patch of silky hair covering hard muscle. The fine hair curled around his fingers as if with joy for having been discovered. His head began to tingle at that feathery touch. “Step two: you move in with me.”

Sayen’s eyes pinched more firmly shut; the soft pink of his lips nearly disappeared. Campbell kissed Sayen’s neck, and unclasped the next button. “Three, take your boyfriend to your favorite restaurant and tell him you will always be grateful to him, but I’m taking care of you now.” He kissed Sayen’s cheek as he brushed his hand through that glorious forest of chest hair. He undid the last button. “Then you let my charm and Daddy’s money make your promise come true.”

He kissed Sayen’s lips, longer, fervently. He spread Sayen’s shirt open, ran his hand down Sayen’s chest. After years of cautious glances and hopeful yearning—on the basketball court, in the gym locker room and showers, even watching Sayen at the library losing himself in a book—he could now barely contain himself. Though he’d had sex with other men, touching had never felt like this. The fullness in Sayen’s shoulders and chest was chiseled without seeming bulky. The texture was supple skin over granite muscle, and that hair, that splendid fur curving into a thin, dark line that journeyed down the middle of his rippled stomach and widened again below his navel. Having seen Sayen in the gym showers, Campbell knew he shaved his underarms as well as his pubic hair, apparently a custom in some Muslim cultures, but thank God he didn’t shave his chest, arms, and legs.

Campbell rolled an erect nipple between thumb and forefinger. He edged closer until he felt an unbearable fire spread over his own chest and groin, extending into a faint wash of heat through his head. He could smell the fruit of wine on Sayen’s spent breath, feel the muscles tightening at his touch. That skin, that supple, bronzed softness seemed to burn his fingertips. He pulled back to admire the treasure trail leading below.

Does he really want me, or only Daddy’s money? What the hell am I doing? I will never be worthy of him; he is too fine, too good-looking, too pure. He will never be interested in me. No, damn it, sit up straight, look sexy, be confident. I can do this.

Sayen opened his eyes, and a faint light seemed to shine from within their depths. That piercing look froze all Campbell’s thoughts. It was the same look Sayen had shown when they had held that baby between them, caught in the wonder of new life. But then those eyes, blue as sapphires, seemed to slide away, to look across the room. Searching for an escape route?

Campbell read something in the sudden change in mood. Fear? Guilt? An anguished indecision? Or was Sayen’s wary caution morphing into something like mourning?

Campbell shivered in the instant he lost all his confidence. He knew he had done something wrong, pushed too fast, too hard. He had somehow caused this beautiful man to feel pain.

“I’m sorry,” Sayen said. “All this is new to me. I’ve only had two lovers. The first was my brother, Mahmud. He was twenty then, five years older than me. We slept in the same bed. One night he came home after he had been drinking with his chums. He was crazy with lust. He pulled my pajamas down and fucked me, and because he was my older brother, I had to submit. In my culture it’s not that uncommon. He’s not gay; he just needed to get off, and I was available. When that began to happen regularly, my mother brought me to the United States to protect me from Mahmud’s lust. She said it was to keep me from the growing violence against our family, but I know the real reason. What neither of them knew was how deeply I loved him, before and after he raped me.”

Campbell sat shocked and embarrassed. His feelings about any type of incest was unadulterated revulsion. To hide his own prejudices, he tried to move the conversation to safer ground. “And the second one is this married sugar daddy?”

“After my mother died, I couldn’t go back to Tripoli because by then I knew I was gay, and life for a gay Muslim in North Africa is no picnic. I needed someone to help me survive here, and he has. Before I met him, I was adept at dining on fumes.”


“I’d sit at a table nursing a coffee or latte, and absorb the delectable fragrances of the meals being served all around me. I could make a single latte last a whole evening.”

Campbell pressed his face to that beautifully formed neck and lingered below the jawline until the pleasure grew unbearable. His lips brushed Sayen’s satiny mouth before pulling away.

The room grew intensely quiet despite the soft music.

Campbell fingered Sayen’s shirt, pulling it further open to reveal more flesh. “We’ve run out of buttons,” Campbell said to ease his sudden discomfiture.

A smile graced Sayen’s face, and in the dim light he looked like a lost angel, luminous and acquiescent. He breathed faster, harder, and stammered, “There’s one more.”

Even before Campbell’s mind reengaged to understand what those three little words meant, his fingers had already reached for the button on Sayen’s jeans. This time Sayen kissed Campbell, forcefully moving his tongue into Campbell’s mouth, as if laying claim to new territory. A devouring, breathless kiss. When Sayen pulled away. “You really love me?”

Campbell saw a plea in those alluring eyes; it drew him closer. Those eyes were begging, but then they glazed over while moisture collected in the corners, until a single drop formed, trapped in those lashes until he blinked. The drop slid down his cheek, and he brushed it away with the back of his hand.

Campbell popped that last button open.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Time For Refection On Family

This past week, my husband and I drove up to San Francisco to spread ashes on the bay and say a final goodbye to one of our dearest friends. About twenty of us boarded the boat that swept us across the bay to drop the ashes near Sausalito. On the ride home I kept thinking of my own family, and how dear they are to me.

Because appreciating my family has been foremost in my mind these last few days,  today I would like to share a few pictures of the man who makes my life worth living.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Interview on Blog Talk Radio

I was recently interviewed on The 5by5 radio show in blogtalkradio. It was a thirty minute exchange of ideas with David Banks that I found fun and interesting. Check it out here: