Monday, November 30, 2015

Faces at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

Herman and I recently visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  I thought I would share some interesting faces we found there.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


I’m thinking a great deal about closure today. Since the first week in November I’ve been traveling around Asia, and today marks my last week before flying home. During this trip, I’ve been careful editing my work-in-progress manuscript, focusing on only 5 pages per day, judging each word, every comma, striving for perfection. I have seven pages left.

So in light of completing two major events this week, I’m overjoyed and saddened. Both events, as with most things in life, were fun and interesting, and both moved me further along that path I travel. 

I find that, as much as I crave starting something new, I can’t help clinging to what I have now. I suppose that is human nature, that is, true for almost everyone. As a Buddhist, I understand that letting go is key, perhaps even THE key, to happiness. Yet, as simple as that sounds, putting it into practice is far from easy. 

Is it fear of the unknown? That somehow sounds too negligible. I mean, I certainly know what it’s like to live at home. It’s a place I love. It allows me to work at a much greater pace, have home-cooked meals, take pleasure in friends and family. The truth is I enjoy being at home as much as I enjoy traveling. And as for finishing a story, I’m actually thrilled, after two years of work, to be able to put this one aside and starting with another set of characters, settings, and situations. You would think I’d be chomping at the bit to be home. Yet, I’m not.

I’m guessing here, but I think it’s just basic fear, fear of change, any change, and I think that is human nature. Unless we are in a horrible situation, our nature is to resist anything different, much as we tell ourselves we need something new. The funny thing is – I’m reaching into my Buddhist roots again – change is constant. Life is continuously changing around us. To fear change is to be, at some level, forever in fear.

The only cure that I can think of for this is to live in the moment. To spend no time worrying about what has already happened, nor what will happen. No thoughts of hopes or regrets. 

I’m reminded of a Sunday school lesson that Jesus talked about walking a narrow path to heaven. He said there were thorns on the right of this path, as well as the left. I believe he was talking about time. The path is now, and the thorns on the right and left are past and future. Both Jesus and the Buddha basically said the same thing, focus on the path of NOW, and that leads to heaven. 

Sorry, I didn’t intend for this to turn into a sermon. I’m simply trying to understand myself, in an attempt to make sense of my life. Which may in itself be a foolhardy endeavor.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Writing Tip: Using of Copyrighted Material

There once was a time when you could include a few lines of a song or poem, or quote another book, and no one cared. That time is gone.

To use any quoted material from a work under copyright, you must have official permission from the rights holder. In the case of a published work, this is almost always the publisher, and it will cost money. Expect to pay $250-$500 for up to 100 words for the first 5,000 copies sold (although some may set the maximum at 2,000), after which an additional fee may be required. Fees of $1,000 and more are not out of the question.

Phrases that have been used so often ("Make My Day.") can still be used with impunity, although even then it's technically a copyright violation. 

If you're determined to use a bit of copyrighted material, it's your job to obtain the necessary permission. It takes time and money.

Be aware that when it comes to copyrighted material these days "just a little" is too much.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Anniversary

Twenty-one years ago yesterday, Herman and I exchanged rings and pledged to stay together for life. Back then we had no idea what an exciting journey we started together, nor how our love for each other would deepen and intensify.

Happy Anniversary, my love.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Becoming A Catalyst for Change

Yesterday I came across a note on Twitter from a guy who whined about how the world was going to hell in a hand basket because everyone (including himself) was greedy, selfish, self-centered creatures who had no regard for others. 

I replied to him suggesting he should live the change he wants to see in others, that he can set the example so others will be inspired to follow. I went on to explain that those words were spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, and it seemed to work for him, as he inspired a nation to stand up for itself, and still inspires men and women a half-century later. 

His response to me was: "I know it's cynical but I think this idea of being a catalyst for change is bullshit. Change only happens after major catastrophes and massive social events. But day-to-day, people remain the same selfish, self-centered creatures they've always been. Historically, every good thing we have accomplished, socially speaking, has been the result of something horrible happening. People just don't wake up one day and go, "You know, I'm a real asshole, I think I'm going to start being a good person." Disaster, death, destruction, pain, those are the sparks that induce change in people, like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes. In nature, it is a necessity. Forest fires, brush fires, volcanic eruptions, flooding, all of these seemingly devastating events make way for new-found fertility. We are no different because we are still a part of nature, no matter how many unnatural things we surround ourselves with."

I must say I found his response doubly sad. To think that it takes great pain on a grand scale for anyone to change their attitudes and behavior is, in my view, ludicrous. I have had countless small revelations in my life where I’ve analyzed the results of my behavior and not only saw the need for change, but also made that change. I’ve seen and heard people I respected and wanted to be like them, and I began to mimic their positive behavior. People the world over do this on a daily basis.  

I sent him two responses: “If you are not willing to make the changes you deem needed in others, why should anybody else?” and then, “If you become a giving and compassionate person, then there will be at lease one less asshole in the world.” 

I can’t wait to get his next reply. lol

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Writing Tip: Sound

Prose creates sound. Accomplished writers not only tell a story or paint a picture with words, they pay attention to the sound of language, to its rhythms, breaks, alliterations, rhymes and echoes. Good writing translates into immaculate prose, beautiful to hear and beautiful to read.

Musical notes reverberate in tiny waves, always growing louder or softer. The same is true for prose. And sound can be one of the harder problems to diagnose and correct. You want it to flow. The last thing you want is a jarring sound that pulls the reader out of the dream.

The most common dilemma with sound results from poor sentence construction. The root problem is caused by awkward sentence division – misuse of commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes and parentheses. 

In some cases sentences are simply too short or too long.

Another problem is echoes, using a character’s name or some other word too often. Many authors use “he” and “she” too often. Also, using an unusual word that stands out too often. I have a habit of using “he” or “she” to start several sentences in a row, as in “He said this. He did that. He heard something. He turned around.” It quickly gets monotonous.

Yet another issue is Alliteration, where the repetition of the first letter of a word and the first letter of a following word is the same – for instance, the “large lock” or “walking down the wide street.”

The best way to catch sound issues is by reading the text aloud. On my Mac, I can highlight the text and have the computer read it aloud. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve caught doing this.

Once you identify an issue, an effective way to deal with it is to cut and/or simplify. Many writers equate complexity of thought with complexity of sentence structure. I believe that is a huge mistake. To present ideas simply and clearly is next to Godliness.

Bottom line is to pay close attention to the sound of your prose.

Monday, November 16, 2015

We Are Nothing But Stardust and Thought

 I read something on the net this week that seemed to encapsulate what much of Buddhist thought points toward, and I’d like to share it.

It’s breathtaking to consider: each human being, and most animals, have two eyes, each composed of 130 million photoreceptor cells. In each one of those cells, there are 100 trillion atoms—that’s more than all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.

However, each atom in each cell in each eye formed in the core of a star, billions of years ago, and yet, here they are today, being utilized to capture the energy released from that same process. All to expand the consciousness of each person or animal.

The universe has an interesting sense of irony, in that you are the universe experiencing itself. All you are is stardust and thought.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How To Stop The Violence

When a person thinks of himself as gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, American or European, Republican or Democrat, or anything else, they separate themselves from the whole of mankind to identify with a subset of humanity. This simple act causes most of the violence in the world. It is a violent act.

Defining yourself by belief, nationality, sexuality, or race breeds violence because it creates divisions between humans, and those divisions will eventually cause strife, and often leads to discrimination, bullying, bloodshed, even war.

So a man or woman seeking to end violence in the world, would do well to start by abandoning all the labels that would demand loyalty to any country, political party, religion, sexual orientation, race, and simply concentrate on understanding and being a part of the whole of mankind. For that matter, don’t stop at just mankind, see yourself as part of this living eco system we call earth.

When every person on the planet sees himself or herself this way, then there will be an end to violence. Don’t wait for everyone else. Join the peace movement now.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one
-John Lennon

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Veterans Day

These are a few shots of me, forty years ago.

Monday, November 9, 2015

What Are My Triggers?

This past weekend was Pride Weekend in Palm Springs. Our dear friends, Don and Jeff, drove into town to share the fun, of which there was plenty to be had by all. Lots of parties, tons of good eating, live music at the street fair on Saturday night, Pride parade on Sunday, brunch after the parade at our favorite eatery. We had a ball.

Yet on Saturday night, for the second time in the last three weeks, I over indulged in drinking alcohol. As usual, I had planned to have only one glass of wine with dinner. But with all the festivities, one glass led to two. Then back at home, Don pulled out a bottle of wonderful tasting, quality gin. I had a taste. It was so good I a shot, and then two, and a third. I didn’t get sloppy drunk, but I did have trouble sleeping and I had a hangover all the next day.

I am a recovering alcoholic, and the last thing I want to do is get back into the habit of drinking regularly. These last few years I’ve been good at holding myself to social drinking, and for me that means a glass of wine at a party or dinner, and I occasionally slip and have a second glass. My problem is, if I do that too often, then I fall off the wagon like I did Saturday night, and end up paying for it.

So I’ve been thinking this morning how to get back on track for good. I’ve been wondering what triggers I have that lead me astray.

1) Spending lots of time with people who drink heavily, and try to goad me into joining them.

2) Thinking I can hold myself to one wine.

3) Thinking I need a drink, to fit in, when I’m in a crowd of drinkers.

Number one is hard to avoid in Palm Springs. Social drinking is what most people do here, at lease nearly all the people I know. Still, I find I have more success with not drinking when I limit my exposer to these friends to just a few hours at a time, a brunch or dinner, or only spending a few hours at a party. Disaster strikes when I end up spending several hours at a party where everyone is drinking heavily.

Number two is often manageable, yet after having one wine or beer, I always have a strong craving for a second. And if I indulge that craving, then the flood gates open to more craving, because two wines take away my willpower to say no to more. I do enjoy having a single glass of good wine, but it creates a dangerous slippery slope.

Number three is mental, and I need to somehow readjust my thinking. I can’t control what others do, and I know many people who can drink all night and never get drunk. I can’t do that. I know all too well I can’t do that. A few stiff drinks and I’m three sheets to the wind. I have to accept that for self preservation, I need to be the one guy in the room drinking sparkling water.

So, for the time being, I plan to avoid triggers. I’m off all alcohol, even the single glass of wine. If that means staying away from parties, so be it. My health is more important to me than being social.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Are you happy? I mean genuinely happy on a consistent basis. Do you whistle or sing when you walk down the street? Do you enjoy interacting with your fellow workers? Do you wake up excited to face the day?
If not, when will you be happy?

 Many people tell themselves, "I’ll be happy when...

• My health improves
• My relationship improves
• The economy improves
• I get a new this or that
• I get my career on track
• I move to a better location
• I get a raise
• I lose 30 pounds
• I retire

Many people seem to have a list, which ends up being a wall between them and happiness. The truth is that none of these things will make you happy. They can certainly put you in a better position to find happiness, but happiness is a feeling that comes from the experiences in life and our attitude about them. Happiness comes from within, and has little to do with all those things happening outside of you. The old saying is that happiness is a state of mind, and that saying has been around a long time simply because it’s true. Sometimes we feel content, sometimes not, but happiness is around you every day — it’s just that sometimes we have to look closer for it. It won’t come from the things you seek, but rather from the attitude you have about this journey called life.

Happiness is up to you, here and now. You can choose to wait for better days, or you can decide to look for the joy, the opportunities, the smiles, and the good in every day. You get to choose.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Writing Tip: Unveil a Character’s True Nature

In your story, if you introduce a main character who is a caring lover, and by the end of the story s/he is still what s/he appeared to be, a caring lover with no secrets, no hidden passions, no dashed dreams, then your reader will be sorely disappointed, or at least bored. 

By the same thinking, if your main character’s inner life matches his/her outer life, that is, everything about him/her shows up front, then his/her character becomes repetitious and predictable, hence tedious. 

The revelation of a character’s inner character in contrast or contradiction to his/her outer characterization is fundamental to all fine storytelling. With interesting characters, what seems is not what is. People are seldom what they appear to be, and a character’s hidden nature waits behind a façade of traits, good or bad, for the right moment to reveal itself. 

Whatever they say and however they compose themselves, interesting characters will reveal their true nature only when placed in a pressure situation. Pressure is key. 

Underneath a character’s appearances, are they loving or cruel, strong or weak, generous or selfish, courageous or cowardly? The only way to know is what choices that character makes under pressure. For instance, if a character tells the truth in a situation where telling a lie would gain nothing, it reveals little about his/her inner nature. Yet, if this same character insists on telling the truth when only a lie would save his/her life, then we see his/her true nature. 

That’s why a story should have escalating levels of pressure situations going from low to high to extreme. As the pressure builds and builds, your characters should reveal more and more of their inner-selves until the reader knows them body and soul. 

Taking this principle a step further, the best writing not only unveils inner nature, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or worse, over the course of the tale.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Friend Passed, A Friendship Lost

One of the first published authors I met after signing the publishing contract on my first novel was Roger Margason, who always went by Dorien Grey (his author pseudonym). He and I were the only gay writers at Zumaya Publishing back in 2008. He quickly became a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. He introduced me to a community of gay writers and writers who wrote gay fiction. I found out yesterday that Roger passed while in hospital after complications during a routine procedure.

His health was suffering, but nonetheless his death was unexpected. Tragic. Deeply sad. The sudden end of a story too interesting to put down.

He was a man who wrote beautiful prose, who hated technology of any kind, and who loved people. I never once heard him utter a negative word about other people, although he often complained bitterly about himself.

I never had the opportunity to meet Roger in person; for years I didn’t even know his real name, and always called him Dorien. Our only interaction was online. He was a cordial, generous, and encouraging presence, and he will be deeply missed.

RIP, Roger, and thank you for your many gifts to all of us writers and readers.