Friday, February 21, 2014

Arizona’s ‘No Gays Allowed’ Bill

By passing laws to make discrimination against gays and lesbians legal, Arizona lawmakers have, yet again, made it embarrassing to be an American.

The only thing I can think to stay to these “Christians” has already been said by Cory Booker – Senator:

“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.”

I would only add this: If Jesus does exist, then I’ll bet he’s as embarrassed by his Arizona followers as I am.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing Tip: Three Kinds of Feelings a Reader Experiences

I read in a book (Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias) that there are three kinds of feelings a reader can experience while reading a book—boredom, interest, and WOW! Funny enough, with many books I experience all three over and over again. It is a rare book that can WOW me on every page, yet that is what we writers try (or should try) to do. In fact, I find it much more the case that most books bore me on the majority of pages, with a sprinkling of interest scattered through the book.

Some stories wow me because the prose is unique, poetic, and fire my imagination. I mean, some writers can paint portraits or landscapes with a few well-chosen words, like Zen brush strokes. Sometimes the wow comes from brilliant and valuable insights, which is difficult to put on every page. For the most part, I think the wow comes when the story engages the reader emotionally through drama.

As Cordon Lish said: “It’s not about what happens to the people on a page; it’s about what happens to a reader in his heart and mind.”

That, in my not-so humble opinion, is what a writer should strive for on every page, to touch those emotional buttons within the reader, sometimes gently and sometimes brutally. That’s why people read fiction, to ride an emotional rollercoaster. They want to feel something. They put themselves into the characters skin and feel the joy, sorrow, pain, bewilderment, and tension that the characters feel.

Emotion means “disturbance” from the Latin “to disturb or agitate.” The writer’s job is to disturb the reader, move their hearts and minds by the words you string together on the page. It’s what the reader demands. It’s why the plopped down twenty bucks for your book. They want a emotional ride, and they want it on each and every page.

It’s important here to distinguish between a character’s emotions and the reader’s emotions. Sometimes, in a comedy for example, a character might be being dragged through hell but the reader’s response might be laughter. In a thriller, the protagonist is often calm and unaware, yet the reader is tense because he knows something the character doesn’t. Sometimes you want the reader to experience the same emotions that your characters are feeling, and sometimes you want the reader feeling something entirely different. A good writer focus more on the reader’s emotions than they do on the character’s emotions.

Bottom line: it’s not enough to write a well-structured plot where the protagonist follows the hero’s journey and changes his perspective at the end. It’s not enough to offer brilliant insights every dozen pages or so. A writer needs to reach into the reader’s gut on page one, and keep massaging those emotional buttons throughout the story. Easy Peasy right?

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Dog’s Life

Amazing how many times you see one special movie and it still makes you emotional. I watched Marley and Me today and I teared-up as much as I did the first time I saw it. Wonderful quote from Owen Wilson,

"A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbol means nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside. A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple, and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not. As I wrote that farewell column to Marley, I realized it was all right there in front of us, if only we opened our eyes. Sometimes it took a dog with bad breath, worse manners, and pure intentions to help us see."

Makes me want to come back in my next life as a dog.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: Forever Marathon by Jameson Currier

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions
Pages: 210

I’ve lived through two twenty-year relationships, and almost all of my close friends are in multi-decade partnerships. I know first hand that no relationship is easy and that all couples fight, no matter how much they love each other. Jameson Currier, in his Forever Marathon novel, takes an in-depth, forty-eight-hour peek into a challenging relationship.

Jesse and Adam have spent twenty-four cantankerous years together, through ups and downs, through all the whining and bitching, and through countless petty fights and major battles. They are finically set, throw fabulous parties, and are the envy of their friends. Their friends, however, can’t see how miserable they are. Now on the backside of their forties, they are running out of time if they are to find happiness. But first they must figure out what happiness looks like, and determine if it is attainable or simply a myth created by the media industry.

Mr. Currier had accomplished something truly remarkable: He has presented two highly unlikeable, self-absorbed, clichéd characters, and woven them into an interesting story that keeps the reader turning pages. He does that by making Jesse and Adam so real they resonate within the reader.  We’ve all known couples like them, the ones we joking call ‘The Bickersons’, and we’ve all wondered what goes on when they are alone. Mr. Currier gives us an hour-by-hour examination of how far a couple will go in a game of one-upmanship, taking a petty fight into all out war.

Jesse and Adam are the gay version of George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with enough humor thrown in to match Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in War of the Roses. The story swings from present to backstory like a pendulum, giving a great deal (perhaps too much?) of the couple’s history.

Currier has presented, in my opinion, an honest depiction of middle-aged gay men in a long-term relationship. He gives keen insights into such relationships, and in the disappointments and fears of growing older. This is a funny, exasperating, touching read.

Friday, February 14, 2014

U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen Is My New Hero

Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined. Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed. We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect." - U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, in her ruling.

I'm starting to have to pinch myself. Is this all really happening?

Check it out at 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Writing Tip: “It’s Real” or “It’s Cool” is no reason to include it.

I recently read a novel that was chocked full of details the author thought was cool, and he used them to spice up an otherwise dull storyline. All writers have ideas for scenes and details that on their own seem interesting, unique, real, or cool, but if those ideas don’t connect to and advance the basic problem of the story, they will take away from or muddy the waters of the emotional investment the reader is experiencing. A writer wants to heighten that emotional investment, not siphon it off. And let’s face it, if a storyline needs those cute little details to be interesting, then perhaps it’s the plot you should be working on.

To heighten the reader’s investment, every scene and every detail ideally should change or affect the central driving question that forms the backbone of the story. The two reasons that I’ve noticed that writers (and I do it myself) drift away from the core problem is:

1. They have a shortage of story, meaning, they don’t have enough conflict surrounding the central plot. They end up creating situations and including meaningless details, scenes, and dialog as filler to round out a story. Readers, generally speaking, are not stupid. They can smell filler a mile off and it pulls them out of the story as they struggle to understand how this affects the central problem.

2. They include something “real” and/or “cool” even though it doesn’t compellingly move the plot forward. This is not so bad when it’s simply details of who’s wearing what, or describing a room, but I’ve seen writers include several scenes and even chapters that were merely filler in an attempt to entertain the reader.

A story is about x, where "x" equals compelling characters and a central problem/question that propels us through the entire narrative. Anything else you include stands a good chance of diminishing the reader’s emotional investment.

Ideally, all elements should advance the central theme/problem.  But all good scenes serve multiple purposes, and there can be room for informational, interesting, "real," or just "cool" elements that don't develop the main problem, as long as they are weaved into something that does -which should make up the main thrust of the scene.

A compelling emotional journey with a coherent emotional impact is the goal.  If everything you include serves that, you'll be in good shape. So as you map out a scene and before you write that scene, examine exactly how that scene and all the elements in that scene advance the story.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Edward C. Patterson reviews The Plain of Bitter Honey

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today I’d like to share a review of my latest novel, The Plain of Bitter Honey. The reviewer, Edward C. Patterson, happens to be a noted historian and a gifted novelist with more than a dozen published books.

I always find it thrilling to have an author I respect and admire write positively about my work. It’s one of the most gratifying things that can happen to a writer.

5 out of 5 stars

A Riveting Saga and a Powerful Dystopian Tale

When political pundits disregard social issues in favor of economic or foreign policy, I have often considered it a ploy to disguise their real motives. Bread and circuses has always been the tool of those who rule, while attempts to wipe the slate clean of the opposition and to scapegoat the socially unrepentant is a classic trend. It’s as real as the 20th Century and has been a theme in many works. However, Alan Chin’s The Plain of Bitter Honey is a unique voice from this quarter. He anchors us to the spirit of two brothers (identical twin), who are a dichotomy of a single soul, split and blended, and growing unflinchingly in the horrible situation surrounding it. In the course of the brutality pervading this near-future America, brutal to both the afflicted and the afflicters, Mr. Chin gives us a firm sense of the past repeating itself.

The Plain of Bitter Honey is a refuge to be sought and to be abandoned — an ideology suffocated by its own existence in a world of hypocritical rulers and cannibalistic offshoots. Embracing it are the Swann brothers, who live in the vast freedom of their own bond. Mr. Chin gives us an unrelenting, breath-taking work, sympathetically beautiful and riveted to an unhinged life, which could realistically evolve if we allow prejudice and obsession to overtake a sense of humanity. Despite its powerful pace, the novel is character driven and superbly written. Mr. Chin always makes strong statements in his work, but The Plain of Bitter Honey, to this reader, is his most powerful to date.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gay Russians On Phuket

Herman and I have been on Phuket Island in southern Thailand for about a week now. We spend every day on the beach, relaxing with hoards of other tourists. We’ve been coming to this beach, Nai Harn beach, for the last several years. Interesting enough, most of the tourists this year are Russians. They seem to make up 60% to 70% of the tourists here. In prior years, the vast majority was made up of Germans, French and Italians.

It seems the Russian middleclass has finally begun to travel internationally, and Thailand is a cheap, warm destination to escape the cold Russian winters.

We’ve seen a number of Russian gay couples. From the looks of things, the Russian gay men don’t come here to pickup Thai boys, like the European and American gay tourists do. They come here to be together, to be openly committed couples, to be themselves without fear of persecution.

And that’s the interesting thing; these gay couples are surrounded by straight Russian families, yet here nobody makes a fuss.  Without the government’s heavy hand, the straight Russian families don’t seem to care about these openly gay couples, even the Russian ones.

It’s heartwarming to see, and know that they have a place where they can express their love without fear, if only for a few weeks each year.