Friday, April 29, 2016

Still In Istanbul

My favorite place to visit in Istanbul is the Spice Market. They seem to have every variety of spice on the planet, and they are beautiful to behold. But mostly, I love the smells of all those spices blending into a richness that is carried on the air.

The Spice Market is huge, with hundreds of stalls winding through a covered market place, and also a number of stalls in the streets surrounding the market.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Greetings from Istanbul

Herman and I are in Istanbul this week. It is one of our favorite cities to visit, and I have a million impressions rattling my head about this place. I’m still battling jetlag (for some reason its really kicking my butt this time. Must be old age) so I’m still taking things slow. But we are walking ten to fifteen miles per day because there is so much to see and experience here. The problem is, this city is built on hills, so all our walking us more up and down. Not so easy with jetlag.

My first post will be about a national obsession: deserts. If you have a sweet tooth, then this is the place to come. The desert shops are five to a block here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Writing Tip: Dialog Is About Attitude

Yesterday, I was having coffee with James Dalessandro, a noted screenwriter, and we mostly talked about dialog. He said, “Dialog is the characters passing information to the reader, with attitude. And attitude is more important than the information.” 

The best example he gave was a prison movie where Clint Eastwood, a prisoner, was meeting with the warden:

Warden: “What was your childhood like?”
Eastwood: “Short.”

The subtext, of course, is that Eastwood’s character found himself on the streets fending for himself at a very early age. But more important, is the attitude that comes across with that one word answer, which says: “Screw you. Why are you asking me these bullshit questions? Mind your own f*&%ing business!”

That is a lot to say with just one word. It speaks volumes about the character, yet it is just one word, five letters and a period. Brilliant.

So, when thinking about what your character will say, give even more thought to how s/he will say it. What are they feeling, what are they trying to get at that moment. It’s all about attitude and impact. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

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 taking time to appreciate the reality of this moment.  Sounds easy, right? Oh so wrong…

As I sit here writing this, I pause and expand my awareness beyond my computer/phone… What is my reality of now?

Although I’m writing this blog post, there are a hat-full of other tasks I need to accomplish. Yes, and there is also my body. I’m feeling warm, comfortable. The overhead fan creates a breeze that I feel on my skin, also it makes a whirling sound. I hear Herman in another part of the house and wonder what he’s doing. Outside the picture window to my left is nature, humming birds hovering over of the cactus blooms.

I pause with a blank mind to take it all in—no, much more—to become the actual reality of this particular moment. Try it; it’s kind of cool. 

As I go through my day, I’m often stressed because of all the things that need doing. I worry about how things will unfold in the future, and sometimes procrastinate because I’m simply overwhelmed by everything I need to accomplish. I sometimes feel like I’m not good enough, especially when I compare myself to others. And I frequently replay and replay conversations that have already happened, wishing I done/said something differently.

But all that self-induced stress is BS. The reality of this specific moment is that I’m okay. Better than okay. I’m aware of everything around me and I’m living exactly the life I wish to lead. How can I ask for more than that? Anytime I fully become the moment, I become grateful.

The particulars of this moment will only come together now. This combination of sounds, colors, shapes, and smells around me will never happen again. This moment, how my body feels and what my mind is contemplating, is profoundly unique.

The environment and we are changing all the time. We like to think of ourselves as static, but we all change, physically and mentally, with each breath we take. It’s unavoidable. I am a different person than the “I” that woke up three hours ago, because various actions and thoughts interacted with me to change me in many small ways. By the time you finish reading this post, you will have changed. The you that exists right now will never exist again. Ever.

I think the ever-changing, impermanent nature of the all nature is the only truth. Each moment is a fluid snapshot of impermanent changing entities, interacting with each other.

I have to keep telling myself that the reality of this moment will never come again. Don’t miss it.

When I do that, become the moment, I relax into a soothing awareness of what is around me, and also of who I am. You might want to give it a try from time to time. Throughout your day, as you worry about this and that, and lose yourself in that long list of tasks, ask yourself. “What is the reality of right now?” 

Once you start doing it, it becomes addictive.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs is about a hundred miles southeast of Palm Springs, and is home to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The preserve is over 53,000 acres of beautiful desert and mountain ranges. It entertains a diverse population of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and plants, including the endangered Desert Bighorn Sheep. In fact, over 300 species of birds migrate through or take up residence in the park each year.

Herman and I took our friend Ben Wong there for a day of site seeing and hiking, and we were lucky to find the desert in full bloom. It was a fun day of hiking, but Borrego Springs is also famous for it’s rather large metal statues scattered over the landscape, and we saw them all. Below are just a few examples:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Writing Tip: Don’t Expose Your Offensive Prejudices

I just finished a novel by a new author. I enjoyed the first thirty or forty pages, but then I noticed a pattern developing. All female characters were shown as strong, intelligent, and resourceful. However, all (and I do mean ALL) the men were either lying cheating bastards, spineless buffoons, or drug addicts who couldn’t tie their shoelaces without some woman there to show them how.

It became clear to me, that this woman writer had huge emotional issues with men—the kind of woman typically called a “man-hater”.

I found her treatment of women vs. men characters sexist and offensive. It colored the rest of the story, making it impossible for me to enjoy the book, or to take her seriously as a writer. I did finish the story, but only because I had agreed to review it, and I can state I will never bother with another of her books. 

I have no issue with someone writing a story geared for women. Neither do I take issue with flawed characters, male or female. In fact, flawed characters tend to be the most interesting. But I do resent authors who blatantly attack a group of people by portraying them all as flawed, with little or no redeeming qualities. 

After my first novel, Island Song, was published, I read through the story and realized I had presented a Christian preacher as totally flawed, a very unsavory character. I was more than a little mortified to realize I had let my resentment of the Church so blatantly color my story.  In my second novel, which also had a clergyman, I went out of my way to make that person a sympathetic character. 

The writers I’m most impressed with try to show a fine balance of empathetic qualities and flawed qualities in each and every character, for their heroes and villains alike.  I think it’s one of the key traits of good storytelling.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

★★★★★ Review of Match Maker by Alan Chin

Title: Match Maker
Author: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: novel (337 pages)
Buy Link:
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5

A guest review by Victor J. Banis
Summary: the author pulls all the stops out in this gripping story of love, tragedy and redemption, set against a backdrop of professional tennis. An emotional roller coaster that will hold the reader enthralled until the last, fully satisfying page.
In the four years since being forced off the professional tour for being gay, Daniel Bottega has taught tennis at a second-rate country club. He found a sanctuary to hide from an unkind world, while his lover, Jared Stoderling, fought a losing battle with alcohol addiction to cope with his  disappointment of not playing on the pro circuit.
Now Daniel has another chance at the tour by coaching tennis prodigy Connor Lin to a Grand Slam championship win. He shares his chance with Jared by convincing him to return to the pro circuit as Connor’s doubles partner.
Competing on the world tour is challenging enough, but Daniel and Jared also face major media attention, political fallout from the pro association, and a shocking amount of hate that threatens Connor’s career in tennis, Jared’s love for Daniel, and Daniel’s very life.
When I first looked at this novel, I thought, “Oh, no, a jock book.” I mention this right up front because I suspect one or two of you might have the same reaction. Let me put your minds to rest. This novel is about tennis in the same sense that Shakespeare’s Macbeth is about the Scottish moors.
Yes, the author uses the world of professional men’s tennis as a setting for his story, and yes, there is plenty of tennis action in it. But even if you are not a tennis fan, the author’s knowledge of tennis and his love for the sport are infectious. You will find yourself pulled into the story regardless—because, again, the story isn’t about tennis, it’s about homophobia, and love, and courage and grace under pressure and, finally, redemption—in short, the very elements that make all great stories gripping. And make no mistake, this is a great story—surely the one Alan Chin was fated to write—and you will find it gripping.
After being driven from professional tennis for their homosexuality, Daniel Bottega and his partner Jared Stoderling have found  sanctuary of sorts—Daniel as a country club tennis instructor, and Jared in a bottle. Now, Daniel is asked to coach a talented young, and straight, tennis player, Conner Lin. Daniel sees in this the chance of a new beginning for him and Jared, and he convinces Jared to come on board as Conner’s doubles partner. And from the beginning, the author’s love for his protagonists is as real as his love for tennis.
“He kissed me again, and in the quiet wake of his kiss, the surrounding sounds became loud: rustling leaves overheard, the pop of the ball, the chirp of tennis shoes on pavement, the boys’ insistent grunts.”
Of course, once again they find themselves paying the price for being openly gay; but this time, Jared determines that they will not shrink into a closet, they will let the watching world know who and what they are.
“Well, hell, what’s next,” Sikes said, “players kissing?”
“Let’s give it a try and see,” Jared said. He seized the back of my neck and drew me to him, kissing me on the mouth. The move surprised me so much it took me a moment to pull away.
The crowd fell silent.
# # #
“The first time,” Jared said, “everything happened behind closed doors. That’s how they beat us, by keeping us afraid and in hiding. This time we’ll flaunt it. They’ll probably still beat us, but at least everyone will know why.”
There’s no shortage of action and the theme of homophobia adds plenty of suspense along the way, and it looks early on as if the three players will make it to the top of their sport just fine, and you begin to breathe a little sigh of relieve and pleasure. So far, it’s been a fine read, and the good guys are winning.
Then, in an astonishing display of authorial authority, the writer just plain pulls the rug from under the reader. You find yourself both horrified and mesmerized, on a non-stop roller coaster ride that carries you right to the last page. I don’t want to spoil the read for anyone by giving too much of the plot away, but I can safely tell you that the love Daniel and Jared share is sorely tested in ways that will break your heart and ultimately nourish it. I had to stop reading more than once because I couldn’t see the pages through the tears. Yes, it’s that moving. And that was reading the book for the second time.
If you’ve ever been in love, you will agonize with both these young men, both of them wrong and both of them right, as they try to grope their way back to one another in the wake of the tragedy that has driven them apart.
“If I die today, wouldn’t it be better if we had made love last night?”
“Better is putting your skinny butt on a plane and getting you somewhere safe.”
“It’s okay to hate me a little. Sometimes I hate you too. I hate your good legs, your strength, your ability to ignore me.”
His face froze with pensive rejection.
I said, “We need to fight them, not each other.”
And as with all his writing, the author has more for the reader than just details of plot. There is beauty and wisdom here, but he writes as well of Life’s ugly side, of the horrors of war, and of many different kinds of suffering. When Jared is cheated of a win by a gay-hating umpire, he tries to crawl back into the bottle, but Conners’ Grandfather Lin, who survived WWII in occupied China, will have none of that.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and become a man. You think you have it hard? You think life is unfair? You are worse than a baby, crying, crying, crying.”
“Leave my house, old man,” Jared growled.
“I will tell you what a hard life is: being a fourteen-year-old boy chased from your home at gunpoint, watching aunts, uncles, cousins slaughtered like hogs, hiding in a cave, never seeing daylight, searching for food at night where there is no food, so you cut meat from bodies that the Japanese soldiers leave along the roadside. When the bodies go rank, there is nothing but grass, but that is never enough, so you watch your family grow weak and sick. Then you marshal the courage to sneak up behind a Japanese soldier and slit his throat in order to steal his food, so that your mother and father might live a few more days…”
There is beauty here as well, and wisdom. You come away from this book understanding yourself and humankind just a little better than when you started it, and a writer can’t do any better than that.
In the end, the author scores a grand slam win with the best gay sports novel I have yet read, bar none. And ultimately, you realize that it is the Alan Chin who is the Match Maker of the title, and the game he’s sharing with you is not the game of  tennis, but the Game of Life.
If you love a beautifully written and heart rending love story with a true but very special Happy Ever After ending, I urge you not to miss this one.