Monday, June 30, 2014

Quiet Pride

I hope that everyone, gay and straight and whatever, enjoyed the happiest Pride celebration ever. LGBTQ Americans have much to be thankful for, and much to celebrate. It’s been a year of victories with regard to marriage equality. Never before in the history of our nation has the lgbtq community been so open and possessed so much freedom to express ourselves.

As much as I enjoy waving the rainbow flag for all to see, I spent this pride weekend at home in Palm Springs, painting my master bedroom. I began supporting Pride events back in San Francisco over thirty-five years ago. I’ve done my share of marching and spectating. These days, I like to take a more Zen approach to Pride, that is showing the pride I have in my relationship with my husband every minute of the day, everywhere we go, even when it’s just painting our bedroom.

To be honest, these days I no longer feel “gay.” I feel like an ordinary man, who happens to love and respect and cherish the man I live with, my husband. We seem to have all the joys and challenges that I see in every other relationship. I guess I’ve just gotten to the point where I don’t like labels. They seem to divide people.

In Palm Springs, we celebrate Pride in November. We do that for two reasons. 1) Nobody wants to get all dolled up and then march down the street in heels when it’s 110 degrees in the shade—the weather in November is much more conducive to marching. 2) LA and San Diego are both a two hour drive away, so we like to support those Pride events at this time of year. They in turn, come support our celebration in November. It’s a win/win/win.

Happy Pride, Everyone!!!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Taking Sides—One Of The Hardest Lessons To Learn

I can, of course, only speak for myself, but in my years of practicing Zen, one of the lessons I have to relearn and relearn is not taking sides.  Sounds easy, right? Oh so wrong…

I’m thinking of this because of Wimbledon. I’m watching a lot of tennis this week, and like most spectators, I have players I like to see win and players I like to see loose.

I admire all the players on tour, but I generally root for the underdogs, the younger players trying to make their mark on the game—Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov to name a few. The game has been so totally dominated by the likes of Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, and Murray, that I, for one, would like to see some new faces holding the trophy. I was thrilled when Stan Wawrinka won the Australian Open earlier this year.

The players I enjoy seeing lose are the overly arrogant ones, Lleyton Hewitt, Bernard Tomic, Radek Stepanek…

I get caught up in all those likes and dislikes. But then I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t have favorites. It makes no real difference in my life who wins or loses in these professional tournaments. It is nothing more than my own arrogance that I want the universe to play by my quirky ideas of fairness. In tennis, the only fairness is that the competitor who played the better match wins, no matter what ranking, age, or attitude.

My prejudices don’t stop at tennis. I often do the same for political leaders and candidates, outspoken religious people, and world events. As if I have any idea what would make the world a better place. How egotistical is that?

The trick is to catch myself before I get rolling down that path. With tennis, it’s easy. I simply remind myself that I’m a spectator. I tell myself to sit back, watch, enjoy the artistry of the game, and be appropriately grateful that I live in an age when I can see all the greats of the game battle for dominance from the comfort of my den.

For me it comes down to being thankful the universe is what it is, rather than what I would have it. That alone makes life interesting ever second of the day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writing Tip: Don’t Be Afraid To Get It Wrong

My husband, Herman, has taken several screenwriting classes with me and also participates in a weekly writing group of screenwriters. Last summer he outlined an excellent idea for a script, and then spent several weeks working on the first act. When he presented that first act, about twenty pages, to our writer’s group, they were somewhat critical but supportive. They gave Herman a lot to think about, including other options for where to start his story. It was all good feedback. 

The problem was, Herman is a perfectionist who hates criticism. He thanked everyone for the input, even agreed with much of it, and has not written a word on his script since then. He is so afraid to write something that others may feel is not perfect, that he doesn’t write anything. He keeps talking about his story, trying to work out the ideal set of scenes in his mind, but frankly, talking doesn’t get the baby washed. 

I believe it was Hemingway who said: “All first drafts are shit!” And he wasn’t talking about just his first drafts, he was talking about all writer’s first drafts. 

Good writing is rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. My first script teacher told me that the average script gets rewritten over twenty times before anyone takes it seriously. I usually make five to six passes through a manuscript before I submit my novel to a publisher. 

The idea is to get something down. Make it as good as you can, understanding all the time that you will need to go back and edit, edit, then polish, polish. Sometime you go back and realize that it’s just not right for the story, or drags the pacing down, or that it doesn’t add enough to justify being there. So you cut it. And that’s ok. Much better to cut something than end up with warts sprinkled though your story. 

So, bottom line for this week is: when you’re writing a first draft, have the courage to write it down. Even if you know you’re going to throw it way, get your ideas down on paper. You won’t know how good or how bad it is until it’s on paper. The worst thing that will happen is you toss it out and start over. And if you do that, I guarantee the next pass will be better. 

Have the courage to write everyday, even if what you’re writing is crap. If you do that, the writing will get better. And frankly, that’s the only way it gets better.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An Excerpt From My Work-In-Progress

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today I'm sharing the beginning page of my wip, a sci-fi thriller.


The sad and simple fact is, some humans are labeled monsters. This has been true since the beginning of recorded history. Some are born physically misshapen, no legs or arms, enormous heads and spindly bodies, crooked backs, joined twins, no sexual organs or both sexual organs. Others have horribly misshapen faces, no eyes or mouth, two noses, chins in odd places.  These corporeal abnormalities were once considered God’s retribution for the sins of the parents, but now they are thought of as nature’s accident, an unlucky roll of the dice, nobody's fault.
There is, however, a different breed of monster, where the deformity is hidden from the eye. The face and body may be faultless, yet a twisted gene or harmful drug taken during pregnancy results in a malformed psyche.
 Monsters are deviations from the traditional norms. As one child is born without legs, another can be born without empathy and without a conscience. The child born without legs eventually learns he is handicapped, and struggles to adjust, to overcome his physical abnormality. But the child born with no compassion goes through life unaware of his defect, because he has nothing visible to compare with others. He wrongly assumes everyone is exactly like him, coldblooded, calculating, unfeeling. To this kind of fiend, a soul-stricken man seems weak, even ludicrous, in the same way that to a criminal, honesty seems pathetically stupid.
This mean, of course, that to an inner fiend, normal human kindness is monstrous.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Post Tortoise

A close friend, who knows my distaste for the current situation in Washington DC, sent me the following joke. Not sure where he came by it, but it was so clever I wanted to share it.

Post Tortoise

A story about U.S Congress

An elderly farmer was in the emergency ward having stitches put in his hand, due to an accident with a piece of machinery.

The doctor carrying out the procedure struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to politicians and their role as our leaders.

The old farmer said, "Well, you know, most Politicians are 'Post Tortoises'.''

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him, what a 'Post Tortoise' was?

The old farmer said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that's a post tortoise."

The old farmer, seeing the puzzled look on the doctor's face, continued to explain. "You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, he's elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumbass put him up there to begin with." ........

Best explanation I've heard yet !!!!!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Announcing My Sabbatical from Reviewing Books

I began reviewing Gay/Lesbian-themed books back in 2009, and have reviewed thirty to forty books per year since that first review. During these last five years, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a score of thoughtful, well written, delightful stories by authors I admire. I’ve also read a lot of crap by authors too lazy to learn their craft before publishing. And in case you’re wondering, I seldom post a review of a book I didn’t think worthy of praise.

The only real drawback in reading/reviewing so many books per year is that it takes a great deal of time away from reading the books I’d rather be enjoying. Over the years, my to-be-read stack of non-review books has ballooned. In fact, I’ve accumulated a year’s worth of reading material, and that’s not including the books I gathered for researching my current work-in-progress.

So as of today, I’m planning to finish reading and reviewing the three books left in my review stack, and then I’m taking a sabbatical. I plan to wallow in the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Christopher Isherwood, Stieg Larsson, Alan Hollinghurst, Colm Toibin, and re-read some old favorites by Mary Renault, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, Evelyn Waugh, John Cheever, and E.M. Forster. The list goes on and on.

So for you authors out there, please don’t send me any new books to review for at least a year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing Tip: Character Profiles

Do you know what’s in your protagonist’s wallet – how much money, which credit cards, pictures of who? How much do they have in their checking account? Will he wear socks that have a hole in the toe? Will she look into the medicine cabinet at her friend’s house? Do they check out online porn sites? What is their favorite song, flavor of ice cream, cocktail? What was her/his main fear growing up? Which parent did they love most? What is the main driving force in their life, the thing that burns in their belly? What is the thing they are most afraid of? Do they really believe in God or do they just give religion lip service. Who was their first love, their first sexual experience? What habit does their lover have that drives them up a wall?

If you can’t answer these questions, then you don’t know enough about your main characters. Each character has a backstory that drives that character’s motivations and actions. You as a write must know that backstory intimately, even though 90% of it will not show up in the story you are writing. It is all these character traits that determine how your characters will act, what decisions they make, which way they will jump. It’s not enough to know John loves Adam. The writer must know what it is about Adam that attracts John, and why, and also what Adam does the burns John’s ass. To give a character depth, you must know them as well as you know yourself, and certainly better than they know themselves. You are their God, and you see all the way into their heart. Nothing can hide from you.

If you don’t take the time to know your characters – all your main characters – they will seem shallow, one-dimensional. Most readers quickly lose interest in shallow characters. The following is a starting point that I sometimes use in getting to know a character. I’ve known writer who write 30-50 page character profiles. I think that’s overkill, but each writer is different. For minor characters this will probably be enough. For key characters, you will want to add much more meat to the skeleton below. It takes me months to work out an important player, but the following is what I use to start that process.

Sex: Male
Age: 28 H&W: 6’2”, 185
Coloring: Black eyes, black hair, amber skin.
Posture: Dignified, slender yet somewhat muscular, meticulously groomed, stylish clothes.
Defects: none.
Heredity: American-Chinese, second generation.

Class: Lower – wore hand-me-downs until he was thirteen. Family works a farm in Lodi. Put himself through school on scholarships.
Occupation: Doctor.
Education: Just graduated medical school with honors.
Home Life: Lives in an apartment near campus with his lover, Campbell Reardon. He has very little money and depends on Campbell’s money to get by. He doesn’t keep in touch with his parents, who tossed him out because he was gay.
Religion: He is too preoccupied with his personal goals to think about a higher power. Although he has read books on Buddhism and is interested in learning more.
Race: American born Chinese. He takes after his mother in looks and temperament.
Community: He feels comfortable in the medical community and the gay community. He is not ashamed of his family’s humble life, but he is determined to be successful. He doesn’t like the limelight, and doesn’t like to be in groups.
Politics: Flaming liberal. Green all the way. Thinks Bush should be tried for war crimes against humanity for the Iraq invasion.
Hobbies: A voracious reader of detective stores, but he always reads the last five pages first, then reads the book. Plays tennis, which is how he met Campbell.

Character Type: Hero – He’s not perfect, but confident about his skills and takes actions without hesitation. He is the bright side of human nature.
Sex Life: Openly gay. He believes in monogamous relationships. He loves his partner, Campbell, and wants them to marry.
Morality: Anything goes, but there is no need to flaunt it or hide it.
Ambition: He wants to serve the community by being a pediatric doctor. Although he dreams about going into research and finding a cure for cancer or AIDS, he has a deep feeling of wanting to help children. .
Temperament: Fun-loving. He likes having fun and making other people happy.
Frustrations: The fact that Campbell refuses to come out. Winston wants to live in an open, loving gay relationship with Campbell, but Campbell is afraid of his family finding out.
Contradictions: He wants to support Campbell and his family, yet he wants Campbell to be open about their relationship.
I.Q.: Much higher than normal, but he consciously tries not to flaunt it.
Superstitions: Things always happen in threes. No such thing as luck – you get what you want by working hard for it. He wears a lucky coin his mother once gave him, but not for the luck. He also puts much faith in Chinese medicine, particularly Acupressure and Acupuncture.
1st love: His boyfriend, Campbell. They have lived together for months, and Winston wants to take it the next step: marriage.
Sanctuary: The pediatric ward. He loves spending his time helping the children.
Favorite Color: Blue, the color of Campbell’s eyes.
Favorite Music: Cool jazz, but also likes Italian opera.
Drug of choice: Gray Goose Vodka.
Ruling Passion: He will do anything not to hurt the people he loves, even if it means tremendous self-sacrifice.
Fatal Flaw: He expects the world, and especially his family, to revolve around him because he is doing what is – in his mind - right.
His Problem: He wants desperately to marry Campbell, but Campbell is going down a path that will tear them apart.
His transition: He comes to realize that he has the knowledge to expose Blake to keep Campbell from leaving him, but to do that, he will certainly hurt Campbell as well. He decides to give up Campbell rather than hurt him.

Six Key Questions:
1. Is he the protagonist? Yes.
2. What does he want? He wants to marry Campbell and live openly while treating children and helping the community.
3. Why does he want it? Because he feels he should have every right that straight people have, to marry the person he loves.
4. What happens if he fails? He will be crushed, but he won’t slink away to the closet.
5. How does he change? He realizes that living openly, and raising a family is more important to him than Campbell.
6. What is he most afraid of? Losing his integrity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Excerpt: The Plain of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin

Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today I'd like to share an excerpt of my lastest novel, The Plain of Bitter Honey 

This story represents a dramatic turn in Alan’s writing. It is a futuristic story of two brothers, one straight and one gay, who battle a corrupt government and each other. This is a tale of survival, of devotion, of love, of finding deliverance and atonement.

This novel is a finalist in the 2014 ForeWord Review Book of the Year Award in the Science Fiction and has received a fistful of Five-Star reviews.  This is what Bob Lind, the reviewer for Echo Magazine, had to say about it:
I've said in the past that Alan Chin is my favorite author, and that is still the case with this new book. It is best described as a sci-fi/speculative/political novel, so unlike any of his previous works I have seen, and he handles the genre with mastery. The story is action-packed, well-constructed and expertly told, with a diverse, developed cast of gay and straight characters working together in situations that risks not only their lives, but perhaps the future of this country. Bravo … five stars out of five.

Twins Aaron and Hayden Swann are fighting a corrupt government taken over by ultra right-wing Fundamentalist Christians in 2055 America. Each brother fights in his own way, Aaron with bullets, Hayden with words. Then one night their world is turned upside down when they are caught in a government sting and they must both flee north into the badlands between San Francisco and Canada, where the only safe haven is a place called The Plain of Bitter Honey, a refuge where heads of the Resistance operate. But the brothers don’t know that government agents are tracking them to the hiding place of the Resistance. Can they find the inner strength to survive?

The whine of hydraulic motors filled the compartment. The back door crept opened and the front began to rise.

Now came the dicey part. As trash spilled out of the container, they all had to fight their way to the top of the heap so they didn’t end up crushed under tons of garbage, and they had to do it silently—one scream and the armed guards in the cab would be on them. Thankfully, Gideon jumped to Aaron’s aid to help haul Hayden to the top. As the container’s angle grew sharp, the trash picked up speed sliding out the rear.
They rode the debris out, like surfing a wave.

The grade was steep and the brothers tumbled down along with the other freedom fighters. When they came to rest, Aaron still clutched his brother to his chest. Wet, putrid waste piled over them, enough to give them cover until the truck sped away.

Aaron waited until he heard the clang of the truck doors lock shut and the whine of the engine fade. He shook off the trash and pulled Hayden onto his shoulders.

Others scrambled to find the food and equipment scattered among the debris.

Aaron stumbled across a field of waste to lay his brother down in the shade of some cottonwood trees. He dashed back and dug though the rubbish to find his backpack, food and automatic weapon. He worked fast, knowing other trucks would soon show up to dump more refuse, and as soon as the trucks stopped for the day, the Caliban would arrive to scour the heap for anything edible. They had precious little time to gather the equipment and flee the area.

Within twenty minutes, they had assembled a pile of backpacks, blankets, tin cookware, canned food and jugs of water. It only took a few minutes to divvy up the load and pack. Everybody shouldered his or her load while Aaron hauled Hayden onto his back again.

Aaron stared at his pack propped against a tree, realizing that he couldn’t carry both Hayden and the pack, and everyone else was already weighed down. He flashed on its contents—family pictures, mother’s jewelry, childhood keepsakes, a few cherished books Hayden had acquired on the black market, the false passport, and the three hundred thousand dollars. He picked up his rifle, turned and lunged away, leaving the pack. 

Gideon took the point, leading them single file toward the foothills below Mt. Tam. As they left the area, they crossed a well-used path. Beside the trampled grass, Aaron noticed a patched-together signpost that read: To Vancouver, 800 scenic miles.

Aaron wondered whether this was the result of well-meant, wishful thinking or whether someone was making a joke. In any case, the sign stood like a beacon, daring all to proceed at their own risk.
They moved fast and stayed under cover as much as possible, but hadn’t gone a mile before Aaron began to lag behind. The average weight of the backpacks was seventy pounds; Hayden weighed one-eighty-five. Aaron struggled with every step.

He realized he could not keep up.

It became a nightmare. His head bowed and body bent under Hayden’s mass, Aaron lurched over rocks and small obstacles. The pain of his pinched toes had become sharp. He was a fool not to have picked better-fitting boots, and he was paying the price for his stupidity. As he stumbled across the open country, the pain crept from feet to his shins, to his knees. Aaron was in serious trouble. He would never make Canada, but he could go on for a while longer. He would stumble on as long as he could, and just hope someone else would take Hayden when he was done in.

Occasionally he heard a grunt or a voice, but everyone trudged along silently for the most part. Having been raised in the city, amidst a constant barrage of noise from traffic and crowds, this silence was unexpected, and frightening.

Once he thought he heard footsteps behind him. He stopped and half-turned, his ears and eyes straining, but he saw nothing. He only heard his own panting and the sound of his heart pounding.

He hurried on, mindful of the uneven path. If he broke a leg now, it meant certain death. He fell further behind until Gideon stopped the others under the cover of trees.

Aaron struggled to catch up. When he collapsed in the midst of the group, they were deep in debate. 
“We need to move fast and hard,” Cooper said. “If Aaron can’t keep up hauling his brother, we leave him.”
Weary, Aaron could smell their fear. He checked to make sure Hayden was breathing okay, and crawled to his feet.

 “Nobody gets left behind,” Gideon growled. “Now that we’re away from the dump, we need to move carefully and with intelligence, not fast and stupid.”

Cooper shook his head and Maggie spoke for the first time, “Coop’s right. I’m sorry about what happened to Hayden, but right now he’s an anchor. I’m not risking my life to save him.” She glared at Aaron.
If it were anyone but Hayden, he’d be the one insisting they leave him behind.

“All right,” Aaron said between gasps for breath. “I won’t beg you to stay with Hayden and me. Anybody who thinks I’m putting them at risk can leave us behind, and best of luck to you.” On our own, he thought, we don’t have a prayer.

“Listen up,” Gideon said, peering at Aaron. “I’m sticking with Aaron. If you want to live, you’d better damn well stick with us.”

Maggie took two steps toward Gideon. He didn’t flinch as she said, “You have a map of how to get to The Plain of Bitter Honey. Make me a copy.”

How she knew that information, Aaron had no idea, but he was not surprised. She was the smart one, and did her research.

“Too dangerous. If the Caliban gets their hands on that map, Bitter Honey would be wiped out. I won’t take that chance.”

The Armenian raised his sidearm level with Gideon’s head and clicked off the safety.

“Give her the map,” the Armenian hissed, “or I’ll take it off your dead body.”

“One shot and you’ll draw everyone within five miles down on us.”

The Armenian took a step toward Gideon, bringing the muzzle to within an inch of Gideon’s head.
Everybody froze. Gideon reached for his inside coat pocket.

“Slowly,” the Armenian snarled.

Gideon produced a map and held it out. “If you even suspect you’re being followed, eat it. You cannot let the Caliban get hold if it.”

Maggie snatched it from his fingers.  Aaron stepped closer, until he could see the drawing himself. It was indeed a map of the Pacific Northwest, done in pencil outlining the coastline with little triangles showing the mountain ranges. A compass sat in the top right-hand corner. At the top was a line and above it a word: Canada. But in the middle, within the triangles along the coastline near the California/Oregon border, was a small black dot with the words ‘Plain of BH’ under it.

She folded it back up and stuffed it inside her shirt.

Aaron couldn’t believe she was making such a stupid blunder. Leaving Gideon to go it on her own was madness. It revealed how scared she and the others were. It’s because we let them think they were going south, he thought. We should have let them know the minute we agreed to evacuate everyone who could have been identified. We sprung this run for Canada on them at the last moment, but they needed time to get used to the idea. It was too quick.

“Whoever is coming with me,” she said, “saddle up. I want to be on the other side of Mount Tam by sundown.”

With the Armenian continuing to hold his gun on Gideon, everyone except Liam and the Mexican girl shouldered a pack. Moments later, they trotted away at a fast clip, traveling due north.
“Thanks for sticking with us,” Aaron said, nodding in Liam’s direction as well, “but what the hell can we do without a map?”

“I don’t need it,” Gideon spat. “I’ve been there enough times. I made that stinking map to give to you in case something happens to me. Let’s move out. We’ll skirt around the west side of Tam. We hike single file. Walk in my footprints. No talking; we communicate with hand signals. We take it slow and we zigzag so it’s more difficult for them to trail us.”

“Are the Caliban as fearsome as people claim?” Liam asked. “I mean, I always thought that the rumors were government propaganda to keep us afraid.”

“I don’t know about you,” Gideon answered, “but I don’t plan to find out.”

Everyone nodded. Aaron asked Gideon why he chose to stay with him and Hayden.

“You risked your life to save your brother, and you wouldn’t leave him.”


“So you showed me you can be counted on. Out here that’s everything.”

Aaron didn’t ask why Liam and Juanita stayed. Sticking with Gideon was the smart move.

“What about the others?” Aaron said, looking up the trail they had taken.

“Forget them. They’re already dead.”

Alan Chin

Novels: Island Song, The Lonely War, Match Maker, Butterfly’s Child, Butterfly’s Child Daddy’s Money, Simple Treasures, The Plain of Bitter Honey