Friday, October 31, 2014

Writing Tip: The Controlling Idea

Every good story has a single controlling idea. All coherent tales express this idea veiled inside an emotional structure we call plot. Once a writer discovers that idea, s/he should respect it. S/he should, in my opinion, never indulge in the idea that their work is merely entertainment. A story should convey meaning.

After all, what is entertainment? It’s the ritual of reading or watching a movie, investing tremendous concentration into what one hopes will be a satisfying, meaningful emotional experience. Anything else is just porn.

Plato once urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers. He considered them a threat to society because writers conceal their ideas inside the seductive emotions of art, rather than present them in the rational manner of philosophers. Plato insisted that storytellers were dangerous people. He was right.

The same is true today. Every effective story sends a charged idea to our brains. Yet the idea is often not at all obvious. In fact, many writers, myself included, end up writing a great deal of a story before it dawns on them what that controlling idea is.

The power of this idea comes not only from the idea, but from the emotional charge that the story generates around the idea. Consider the movie Death Wish, whose controlling idea is that justice triumphs when people take the law into their own hands and kill the people who need killing. Audiences cheered as Charles Bronson stalked Manhattan, murdering thugs. Yet the controlling idea is totally vile.

So does a writer have a social responsibility to cure social ills or renew faith in humanity? I believe that the only responsibility the writer has is to tell the truth as they see it. So when you finish a story. Ask yourself, what is the main idea expressed within the climax, and then ask if that idea is true.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reviews – Reveiws – Reviews

My publisher asked me to send them some snippets from my last batch of reviews to go onto the back cover of my next book being published in February called Buddha’s Bad Boys. And since Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog, I thought I would share some of those review snippets today. These are from reviews of my novels First Exposure, and one or two from The Plain of Bitter Honey:

The level of emotional honesty is unavoidable, it’s so real. At some point during all of this, I realized I wouldn’t be able to ever forget these characters. Beautiful, sweet, carrying their burdens, frightened, hopeful and working to survive. Again, it’s the writing. It brings inspiration and darkness to life. -- Prism Book Alliance

Chin has really created a character that we so badly need in gay literature. This is a book that cries out to be read and reading it is an experience that you do not want to miss. It is an “upclose and personal” look at how we live as gay men and how we relate to those around us. – Amos Lassen

There are some books that are really easy to write reviews for. And there are others that are difficult. Not because they're not great books, but BECAUSE they are great books. This is one of those. The conclusion of the novel is ultimately heart-breaking and beautiful. It is full of hope and you want the characters to succeed. I stayed up past one in the morning to finish because I couldn't stop, and when I finally came to the conclusion, I put the book down, curled up in the fetal position on my bed, and just cried. -- Jennifer Lavoie's Reviews

This is no mere flash-in-the-pan "novel" that one can read through hurriedly in one sitting. This book should savored like fine wine, something to appreciate so one can get the full experience of the subtle layers of flavors that can further intensify the pleasure.
--Mulitaskingmamma's Reviews

Chin has given us an irresistible page-turner about friendship, protectiveness and tenderness. The author’s brilliance is his ability to write authentically and entertainingly about the human condition, while simultaneously exposing the wide range of often-conflicting emotions and tragic imperfections that are part and parcel of our humanity. -- Queer Town Abby
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. -- Edward C. Patterson, author of the Jade Owl Series and many other outstanding books
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. -- Bob Lind, Echo Magazine

Monday, October 27, 2014

Immersing Myself in Isherwood

The chief benefit of giving up reviewing gay books is that I’ve had the time to begin catching up on my other reading list. One project over the past month was immersing myself in Christopher Isherwood. I began reading his 600-page diaries covering 1960 thru 1969, and every two hundred pages I stopped to read one of his novels, A Single Man, A Meeting by the River, and The Berlin Stories.

Reading his diaries that he wrote while writing A Single Man and A Meeting by the River gave me an interesting take on those novels, knowing events that influenced him while writing those wonderful stories. I have two more Isherwood books on my list to read before moving on to another author: Christopher and His Kind and Isherwood on Writing.

Isherwood has written several other novels and diaries, and I may come back to him at some point, but I’m now anxious to immerse myself in another writer. My next project will most likely be Capote, and then perhaps I’ll tackle Proust or Steinbeck or Hollinghurst. So many fine writers to choose from. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fan Letters

I don’t receive many fan letters, so when they do arrive, it pretty much makes my day. Like all writers, I love getting conformation that readers do enjoy my efforts. 

Writers tend to spend their time in a room, by themselves, working on stories that they hope are good, but really don’t know for sure. We are always too close to our work to be a reliable judge of quality. So to receive this kind of validation is very special for me, for all writers. Without feedback, it is all too easy to slide into the trap of melancholy and become disheartened. Correspondence like this is an inoculation against discouragement.

I wish there were a way for me to tell all readers, that if they read a book they find interesting or uplifting or simply a pleasure to read, then by all means, contact the author and tell him/her. A few kind words do wonders to help motivate us writers.

This week I received the following email:

Dear Alan:  I just wanted to Thank You for having written the Lonely War.  I just finished reading this evening, and you have rekindled my personal belief that gay men can create literature as well, if not better, than straight men.  Your depth of meaning and life that you placed into your characters is truly wonderful.  I have put all four of your other novels on my "to purchase" list, along with the novellas.  

I have begun donating my gay men's literature to the Gerber Hart Library in Chicago, Ill.  Your book will be included in the next round of books that are sent to a library dedicated to collecting, conserving and providing an opportunity to preserve lgbt literature for the future generations to come.

Again, thank you for the bottom of my heart for writing such a wonderful love story.

As you can imagine, this note gave me a warm rush. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Writing Tip: The Reader Bond

The reader’s emotional involvement is held by the glue of empathy. If a writer fails to fuse a bond between reader and protagonist, the reader will soon lose interest and walk away. 

Involvement has little to do with altruism or compassion. Readers empathize for very personal reasons. Mostly because they identify with a protagonist and his/her desires in life. When the reader roots for the protag, s/he is in fact, rooting for his/her own desires in life. Through empathy, the reader vicariously links to the fictional character, and tests and stretches his/her humanity. That is the gift of storytelling – to enable others to live beyond their own lives, at all the various depths of their being. 

To establish empathy, therefore, is critical, while sympathy is optional. Sympathy means likeable – Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or Tracy and Hepburn. We like and admire them. But empathy is more powerful. It means: they’re like me.

Many writers go out of their way to make their protagonists likable. But likable is no guarantee of reader involvement. We all know likeable people who are painfully boring. Rather, the reader identifies with deep character traits, with innate qualities revealed through the choices a character makes while under pressure. In this way, even the most unsympathetic characters can become empathetic. 

Macbeth is the perfect example. Driven by power-lust and an evil wife, he goes on a killing spree. He’s a ruthless killer, a monster, right? Not so. Shakespeare gave him a conscience – something we all have and can relate to. When Macbeth asks, “What kind of man am I?” the reader/viewer has most likely asked that question of him/her self. The reader understands what it’s like to be guilt-ridden. So this killer transforms into an empathetic hero.

So the key to forge an empathetic bond, is first to put your characters in a series of pressure situations, and the pressure should increase with each one, and then have the character make choices under pressure that reveals deep human character that readers can relate too. I find it best when an author focuses on one or two character traits, loyalty for example, and then continually bombards the character with situations that test that loyalty.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My New Webpage Address:

It’s been a frustrating week. My website hosting company, Lucas Valley Cable, went out of business and brought my website ( down.

After researching other hosting companies, I signed on with Web Hosting Hub. But when I tried to move my domain name ( to the new company, Web Hosting Hub’s software and customer support claimed that I had an invalid authorization code, and they could not give me that same domain address. When I insisted their customer service department help me fix it, they told me it was my issue to solve because their hands were tied.

When the head honcho of customer service contacted me to asked how my experience with his team went, I told him I thought his service sucked. He sent me a two-page email explaining how his department strived in every way to give top customer service, blah blah blah. I replied saying: my idea of customer service was that his people A) understand the technical issues and problems, B) own the problem, and C) FIX the problem. So far his team was batting 0 for 3.

I also explained that, based on his email, he did a fine job of talking the talk. Unfortunately, I failed to see any walking going on by either him or his team. So as far as I was concerned, his service still sucked.

They pointed me to another company, Melbourne IP, saying they owned the account and would help me. Melbourne IP gave me the same runaround and pointed me to another company, Scena, who owned the account. Scena’s customer service rep told me he couldn’t find my account on record. At that point I really wanted to hurt someone. If I hadn’t already paid for a year’s service, I would have found a different company.

After five days of chasing my tail, I decided to take the easy route and simply create a new domain name. I created a website called AlanChinAuthor.Com and rebuilt my website. Luckily, everything is working except the feature that sends free story requests and comments to my email address. I’ll work on getting that fixed this afternoon.

So if you have a moment, please check out my new website at: