Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Writing Tip: Craft Means The Ability To Convey Emotions

Fiction, whether books or movies, trades in human emotions, which means delivering carefully packaged emotional experiences. Books and movies are emotion generators.

When was the last time you saw a movie or book ad that said, “well-structured, great plot points, fresh dialogue?” No. What you see it, “Grabs from the first page to last, funny, gritty, intense, haunting, gripping, hugely satisfying.” The focus is all about emotions, because that’s what the reader/audience craves. Emotion is what sells; it’s what keeps readers coming back for more.

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense and audience manipulation, once said, “We’re not making a movie; we’re making an organ, like in a church. We press this chord and the audience laughs. We press that chord, and they gasp. We press these notes and they chuckle.

Aspiring writers are constantly told to hone their craft. But what does that mean? Craft is the ability to make things happen on the page. Specifically, it’s the technical ability to control language to create an intentional emotion or image in the reader’s mind, hold his attention, and deliver a rewarding experience. Craft is about the ability to connect with your reader.

Your job is to seduce the reader, to make them keep turning pages to see what happens next, to captivate them by drawing them into the world you’ve created. You want them to forget they're reading words on the page, and feel something. In order to do that, you have to find the most exciting and emotionally involving way to tell your story well.

Each page needs to be crafted to make the reader feel tension anxiety, laughter, anticipation, grief or terror, and to manage those visceral feelings into a satisfying experience by the last page.

For some readers, you have thirty pages to hook them. For many it’s ten pages. But the reality is that the first page, and the next, and the next must catch the reader’s attention and hold it. The way to do that is to manipulate the reader’s feelings on each page, which is quite different from manipulating your character’s feelings. Your character on the page may be laughing his ass off, yet you make choose to have the reader crying from anguish.

So on each and every page you write, it’s important to know what emotions your characters are feeling at that moment, but more important that you understand what emotions you are creating in the reader. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them sigh, but make the feel something.

Publishers buy and sell emotion. Therefore, if you want to become a successful novelist or screenwriter you must create emotional experiences in your work. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Which Book Should I Read First?

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today, I’d like to share an email I recently sent to an old friend. We lived in the same apartment building thirty years ago, and lost track of each other after I moved away. Thanks to the magic of FB, we reconnected. When she found out I have published seven novels, she asked a question I get asked frequently: Which book should I read first? A simple question, yet the answer (below) is complicated.

Hi Susan,

Thank you for taking an interest in my work.

Which story you should read first (assuming you would want to read another after reading one J) depends on your interests.

If you like historical novels, then The Lonely War is set in WWII Pacific. It won awards for best novel, best historical, best characters, and best setting at the 2010 Rainbow Literary Awards.

If you like romance, then I would suggest Match Maker or Daddy’s Money. Match Maker won an award for best contemporary novel at the 2011 Rainbow Literary Awards. Daddy’s Money, however, adheres more closely to the strictures of a romance novel.

If you are interested in family stories, Butterfly’s Child is the story of a gay dad coming to terms with his teenaged son. It’s a modern western, which takes place on a horse ranch in Nevada.

My latest published novel is, I believe, my best writing and my most interesting story. The Plain of Bitter Honey is a futuristic novel, set in 2055 California. It is the story of twin brothers, one straight and one gay, both fighting a corrupt government. It has been short-listed for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in the Sci-Fi category, which is kind of a big deal. It is, however, a very dark story. I’ve talked to some of my readers who did not finish it because it so dark and deeply emotional. That’s a shame because it has an uplifting ending.

You can get a taste of all my novels at where I give blurbs, reviews, and the first few chapters of each book.

All my books are available on Amazon in every eBook format and in paperback.

Hope you enjoy,

Hugs back at you,


Monday, April 28, 2014

A World-Changing Thought For The Day

I’m under the gun to get my last edit pass complete and my manuscript to Bold Strokes Books by Thursday, May 1st, so today’s post will be short and sweet so that I jump right into work on my story.

A suggestion for changing the world by one of the greatest sages in our history:

"If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation." –Lao Tzu

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Art of Accepting What Is

At the core of Buddhist teachings are four principles, the key one being that life is painful. I’m talking about emotional pain, the kind one suffers when events don’t go your way, or people don’t act the way you want them to. Every time life falls short of our expectations there is some degree of emotional pain. 

Everyone feels pain, usually on a daily basis. Some people experience that pain—as a mild disappointment or a gut-wrenching catastrophe—and then let it go, move on. Others wallow in their pain, blow it out of proportion, latch on to it for years or decades, and wrench every ounce of emotion out of it, worry it like a dog worries a bone.

Buddhism, simply put, is a method to avoid, or at least minimize that pain. And the principle way to avoid life falling short of expectations is not to create those expectations in the first place. If you fully embrace everything in your universe as if it is exactly what you desire, then there is no emotional pain.

That’s easy when we talk of losing a game of tennis, or even losing your wallet. It becomes more difficult when a loved one dies, or your job is eliminated. I’ve heard Christians deal with such pain by saying, “It’s God’s will.”

As a Buddhist, I remind myself of this lesson several times a day: accept what is. Not only accept, but be grateful, thankful for every failure, every disappointment, every thing that angers me. And once I accept it, then I work to improve the situation in whatever way I’m able. Acceptance does not mean you don’t “fix” things, it simply means you’re okay with it now while you work to improve it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wedding On Easter Weekend

Herman and I are in San Francisco this weekend to attend the wedding of two dear friends that have been partners for over thirty years. Not sure I will ever get over the glow of contentment every time I hear of two men getting married. It’s especially wonderful when I happen to know and respect the couple.

We, of course, are here for much more than the ceremony. Every lunch and dinner is booked with friends. We’re catching up with all our wonderful friends and family who we only see a couple of times a year now that we live in Palm Springs. So this is a busy and joyful weekend for us.

This is a joyous time for many Americans, with family gatherings and time off from work or school. I’m wishing everyone a grand time this Easter. May you be blessed with the happiness and love that will sustain you through the year.

Let the party begin. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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 is 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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joyfully Jay reviews The Plain of Bitter Honey

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today, I’d like to share the latest review of The Plain of Bitter Honey. My gratitude goes out to Kris, who wrote this review for the Joyfully Jay review blog.

Rating: 4.75 stars

Buy Links:  Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

It’s the year 2055, and the Christian Fundamentalists have taken over the government of America. Those with enough money to flee the country have done so, and everyone else is left to waste away. Anyone considered undesirable, especially gays, have been herded into concentration camp-like ghettos where they are mistreated, malnourished, and barely able to survive. But the Resistance is fighting, trying to bring down the government by mostly non-violent ways.

Aaron Swann is a part of the Resistance, leading a small cell of freedom fighters in missions to undermine the government in any way he can. His twin brother, Hayden, is doing the same. Though while Aaron does it with minor violence and mayhem, Hayden uses his words. Aaron has been under Homeland Security’s watchful eye, and one night they sweep in, determined to break up the resistance cell. Hayden sacrifices himself in attempt to allow his brother time to flee. When Aaron discovers that Hayden is still alive, he will stop at nothing to rescue his twin.

Aaron manages to save his brother, and with a small group of Resistance members, begin to make their way to the fabled Plain of Bitter Honey.  The leaders of the Resistance reside in this hidden place, and Aaron knows that if they can make it there, they can finally be safe. But the journey is treacherous. They must make it hundreds of miles on foot, while avoiding both Homeland Security and a group of rebel terrorists. With Hayden severally wounded, the journey takes even longer. Without the assistance and sacrifice of Gideon Tracker, a Resistance member, they would never make it. And everything is not what appears when they arrive. In the end, Aaron must make the greatest sacrifice, knowing that it’s the only way to finally free the country, and the ones he loves, from the tyranny of a corrupt government.

Wow. Whatever I was expecting when I picked up this book, it is more than it seems at first glance. This isn’t a romance, but love is at the center of it all. It’s the tale of a man who finds out that everything he believed in is not quite what he thought, and then does everything he can to bring about change. Aaron is a complex character. He has such conviction and believes so strongly in what he feels is right. He’s straight, but his twin brother is gay, and that is part of what drives him to fight the government at every turn. His love for his brother outweighs everything else. And when it comes down to it, he’s going to do whatever he has to in order to protect Hayden. I loved this guy. I admired him. I was invested wholeheartedly in his journey, both physical and mental, and I wanted nothing more than for him to persevere and come out victorious.

While most of the book centers on Aaron and his journey, we also periodically check in with Julian Stoller, Hayden’s lover. He was arrested after the raid, and now he faces his own horrors. Prior to his capture, Julian was a painter and, by all accounts, a gentle soul. We barely meet him, and only know that he isn’t a part of the Resistance. But after his arrest, the strength in this character really shines. Even knowing that one false move could result in a severe beating and possibly death, he still does whatever he can to undermine the government and uses the resources at his disposal to try and turn the tide. In fact, it is due to his actions that a series of events are put into place that make a huge difference in the end.

One of the more mystical parts of the plot was the connection between Aaron and Hayden. It transcends what anyone would think of as a normal twin link. They actually have a mental, metaphysical connection. They are able to connect to each other’s minds. It is a truly beautiful thing, and the scenes where this is described are done in such exquisite detail that I found myself believing that such a connection could actually exist. It is this joining that ultimately gives Hayden a second chance at life, and allows Aaron to do what he must to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is also this connection that makes the one ménage scene make sense. Aaron and Hayden are, essentially, one person in two bodies. After Hayden makes a connection with Faith, they need Aaron in order to consummate their relationship. I have to admit that at first, I was scratching my head, but as Chin wove the scene with masterful words, I completely understood why and how this worked. And why it was necessary for all three to be together.

I have to make quick mention of the secondary characters in this book because they were truly fantastic and well developed. Oftentimes, secondary characters can seem flat and one dimensional. That is not the case here. The author really flushes them out, gives us insight into their minds, and makes us care about them too. It made for a really well rounded cast of characters, and that meant I was happy with whomever we were following at the moment.

Really, the only tiny quibble I had with this book was that it occasionally slowed down too much. There were times I was grateful for the break in action, where I needed to breathe as much as the characters did. But there were a few instances where that break went on just a little bit too long, and I was ready to get back to the action before the characters were.

This book was full of surprises and twists that I didn’t see coming. Though not a romance, love and morality were at the heart of the message. In a society where everyone who is different is seen as undesirable, it is those who are different that can effect change. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Time at the LA Times Festival of Books

Had a wonderful time this past weekend with five of my fellow Bold Strokes Books authors at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The event took place on the University of Southern California campus, and over one hundred and fifty thousand people attended. There were several live bands, poetry readings, art displays, food trucks, and tons of books on every subject under the sun. The youngest writer signing books was ten years old; the oldest was in her nineties.

First off, it was a huge pleasure to have a full weekend to talk shop with my fellow writers. We laughed, we bitched, we bragged, we hugged, we had a wonderful time. We even sold books to lots of delightful readers. There are few things I enjoy more than meeting other writers and talking shop. What a joy.

The other thrill was talking to so many marvelous people, many of whom were gay, lesbian, or bi, all of who seemed very appreciative of us writers and hungry for our books. There were also a healthy number of straight people who were simply curious to find out what we were about. We had a huge banner, which announced Bold Strokes Books as an LGBTQ publisher. We had more than thirty people come up just to ask what the “Q” in LGBTQ stood for, and that, of course, led into various discussions of the LGBTQ lifestyle and LGBTQ fiction. We had a difference of opinion among us, some said Questioning and some said Queer.

I was joined by Richard Natale, Felice Picano, Sheri Lewis Wohl, Eric Andrews Katz, and Guillermo 

We authors found the event very supportive, and I for one can say I had an enchanting time. I will be looking forward to next year’s event.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review: Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea by Dan Lopez

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Chelsea Stations Editions
Pages: 51

These tales are five gems floating on a sea of reflection. They are turning points in the lives of five fiercely troubled gay men. Dan Lopez had compiled a collection of moving short stories, all sharing the common threads of water, sadness, and ultimately hope. They are a meditation on loss and loneliness.

An aging architect must decide to give up his grief, even if it means losing the vestiges of a lover’s memory. An object of erotic fixation galvanizes men against the isolation of exile on a cruise liner. As he watches the disintegration of his picket-fence fantasy, an ex-soldier looks to the sea for absolution.

Lopez’s writing style and skill of composing prose is nothing short of masterful, making it impossible to believe that this is his debut anthology. The storylines are rather simplistic, yet the characters are so complex the reader feels an intensity seldom achieved with short stories. These stories reach deep into the reader’s heart and embrace that part of him/her that understands despair.