Monday, November 28, 2016

Where Love Gets Purified - An Excerpt From My WIP

I’ve been in Edit mode on my work in progress, and came across the following excerpt that I wanted to share:

He pulled a volume from the shelf and sat in a wingchair beside the piano. The book’s title: Dante’s Divine Comedy. Kalin rested the book in his lap and leaned close to read. Cord watched him become absorbed.
Kalin read aloud, “And of that second kingdom will I sing wherein the human spirit doth purge itself, and to ascend to heaven becometh worthy.” He slapped the book shut, lifted it from his lap and hit it against his forehead. “Fucking poetry. Why can’t they just say what they mean in plain English?”
Cord said, “That story is about descending into hell, and climbing a mountain back out the other side. It describes the seven virtues, the seven deadly sins, and the seven terraces of purgation. It’s about the nature of sin, and atonement for sins. I found it interesting that Virgil, a poet and philosopher, leads Dante up the mountain out of hell, but only leads him part way. In the last four cantos, Beatrice, who Dante loved, takes over as guide and leads him to earthly paradise. For me, it means that the intellect can only take you so far out of hell, but it takes love to lead you all the way into bliss.”
Kalin smiled. “I’ve read the cliff notes. They say it outlines the theory that all sin arises from love—either perverted love, deficient love, or the love of objects.”

“Funny, I never got that. So to Dante, impure love causes one to fall into hell, yet true love is the only thing that can lead you back out. So hell must be where love is purified?”

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Writing Tip: The B Subplot Must Influence Your Storyline.

In most novels and movies, there are at least two stories going on – the A story (main storyline) and the B story (a subplot). There is sometimes a C, D and E subplot as well, but lets keep this discussion simple by focusing on just two.

Strangely enough, with most love stories, the actual love plot is normally the B story. For example: one of the great love stories was Casablanca. The main story was what was happening to the letters of transit. They were the only way out of a horrid situation, and people were dying to get them. The love story between Rick and Ilsa was the B story.

In writing a plot, the A and B stories wander along in parallel, like two trains going down different tracks, yet racing in the same direction. But at some point usually near the end, the B story must collide with the A story, and affect it in such a way that neither story will ever be the same.  

In the example above, Casablanca, the letters of transit fall into Rick’s hands, yet Ilsa desperately needs them so that her husband, Victor Lazlo, can fly to freedom. Ilsa sacrifices everything, promising to abandon Victor and stay with Rick, if he will only give up the letters. Rick, of course, sacrifices Ilsa and gives her the letters out of love, and loyalty. Ilsa and Victor fly to freedom, Rick joins the freedom fighters. 

Another example: To Kill a Mockingbird, the A story leads to Tom Robinson’s trial and the hatred of Atticus Finch by Bob Ewell. The B story is Jem and Scout’s developing relationship with Boo Radley. At the end, the A and B stories collide when Ewell tries to kill the children and Boo stabs Ewell to save the kids. 

If you have a B story that doesn’t significantly affect the A story in the end, then rewrite it so that it does, or cut the B story. It’s only function is to boost the A story. If it doesn’t, then it’s dead weight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Excerpt for Buddha's Bad Boys

I’m very pleased to announce that my latest book, an anthology of six short works called BUDDHA’S BAD BOYS, is available in paperback or any eBook format, at

Bold Strokes Books

Some of these stories are purely fictional, while others are based on real people and true events.

Blurb: There are many reason why Western men turn to Eastern religion—searching for inner truth, lost love, loneliness, fleeing the law, hopelessness, alcoholism. Some travel halfway around the world in an attempt to overcome their particular dissoluteness, only to realize that improving yourself is like polishing air. What they eventually discover, nevertheless, is one of the Buddha’s most significant lessons: enlightenment comes to those whose singular focus is on helping others less fortunate. 

Six stories, six troubled gay men trudging down the road to enlightenment. What they each find is that last thing in the world they expected.

The first story in this anthology is called Monk For A Month and is about two men, Reece and Doug, are almost done with the “Monk for a Month” program at the temple in Chiang Mai, where they have been living like Buddhist monks. But on the same night that Reece finds that Doug is having an affair with another Thai monk, there is a murder lose in the town. Reece sees the killer hiding in the temple and goes about trying to help him escape the police. In the process, a love affair begins.

I sat at the bar sporting saffron robes and a shaved head, sipping a Singha beer and listening to the bartender, who was clearly agitated. I couldn’t tell whether the man was upset over the recent murders, or because the hard rain was hurting his business, or if he simply didn’t like serving alcohol to a monk, even a Caucasian one.

“His name Somchai,” the bartender said. He spoke English, but with the usual Thai singsong clip that I had come to adore. “He kill American expatriate named Warren. Tony Warren.”

I had seen a dead body only once, a gruesome spectacle. It took an effort to settle my nerves as the bartender glared at me, as if, also being an American, made me an accomplice. I had never learned the invaluable art of staying detached in the face of tragedy, of not identifying with the victim. I had no way to shield myself from the reality of how brutal humans can be to each other, what ruthless lengths they will go, and the pain they are capable of inflicting on each other.

Across the street, four soldiers trudged along in the rain.

“When did Somchai kill Warren?” I asked, my voice scarcely a whisper.

The bartender didn’t know exactly, sometime at the beginning of the afternoon that had now come to an end. At the same time that he killed Warren, Somchai had also slain Warren’s Thai girlfriend. Both victims had been found two hours earlier at the apartment belonging to Warren.

The barroom was already dark, due to the lateness of the hour and another power outage. Candles flickered on the bar and at each table; their yellow light mingled with the blueness of the dying day.

The shower stopped as suddenly as it had started, as it often does in Thailand.

“How old was she? The girlfriend I mean,” I asked.

“Very young. Nineteen.” Regret passed over the bartender’s face. “A real beauty.”

“I would like another Singha,” I said, “but I have no more money. Can I buy on credit?”

The bartender’s look of regret turned to disgust. As he walked away, a customer two stools over ordered beers for me and himself, and also shots of cheap Thai whiskey.

The bartender prepared our drinks while the customer moved to the stool beside mine. He introduced himself as Ty Poe, and did not shake my hand, as it is considered disrespectful to touch a monk. Poe was courteous, offering the customary wai gesture of respect. He was somewhere in his forties, and had a smoking-induced cough. The polluted streets of Chiang Mai didn’t help his lungs any more than his chain-smoking, I thought. I gave him my name, Reece Jackson, and told him I was from America, San Francisco in fact.

“I overheard your talk about the murders.”

“Why haven’t they caught him yet?” I asked. “Chiang Mai’s a small town.”

“They have him trapped within the walls of the old city, but you should know how it is,” Poe grunted. “We’re talking about an American expatriate and his whore who got themselves killed by a homeless gay kid. I mean, there are limited resources available to the police department. The police force, as a rule, is not well trained. Officers have to buy their own uniforms, their own guns. They are poorly paid. Not much would be happening now except that this dead girl happens to be the daughter of an army major. The army is doing what they can but they do not know the town as well as Somchai.”

Poe was right, I thought. What could anyone reasonably expect of this situation? The unvarnished fact was that in this country, any given police station’s cases were ranked according to priority. And priority in Thailand had to do with wealth and status. Those on the low end of the spectrum were unlikely to receive much attention. And for a homeless gay kid with no family who happened to murder a bit of riff-raff, then it was probably the victim’s fault. Why bother figuring out all the sordid details?

I felt thankful that I came from a country where every death warranted respect, every victim merited justice, no matter how far down the social and economic ladder that victim might fall. At least I liked to believe that bit of hype.

The bartender placed the beers and shots before us. I lifted my shot in a toast to Poe and knocked my head back, taking the drink in one hot swallow. Poe stared at me in obvious surprise.

“I’ve never seen a monk do that,” Poe said.

“I’m not really a monk. My partner and I paid good money to enroll in the Monk-For-A-Month program here at Wat Phra Singh. He’s on some damned spiritual quest that I, frankly, don’t understand. Me, I’m just an IT geek along for the ride.”

“So you’re not alone,” Poe asked, exhaling a stream of smoke.

“Technically, no. But it often feels like I am.”

The bar stood only a few doors down from Tha Phae Square, which spread before one of the four main gates of the old city, and where two of the town’s chief avenues collided. The square was bordered by the city wall, built of ancient brick, and butted against by the city moat on the north and south sides.  The top of the wall was wide enough to walk on, and just then a flock of children scampered along the wet brick, heedless of the danger of slipping. Among them ran Archer, my adopted son, also sporting a shaved head and wearing the saffron robes. The children looked down on the tourists who gathered in the square, clutching their umbrellas in case the rains returned.

It must be between six and seven in the evening, I thought.

Another shower started and people in the square ran for cover.

Archer hopped down the wall steps and dashed across the road like a fleeing deer. He entered the bar and huddled against me, giving Poe a cautious glance. Archer was a handsome seven-year-old with a round face that gave way to a large jaw and a brilliant set of teeth. He had an impishness and good humor in his eyes, and was strong for so young a boy. But what I admired most about him was his gentle and trusting disposition. Unlike most boys, he was incapable of hurting anything. His only flaw was that he was fathered by two gay men, which made him an outcast back home, someone to be pitied, stared at, whispered about, laughed at, and occasionally beaten up by his peers.

Strokes of lightning lit the sky, coming so close together that they seemed like a ceaseless illumination. The thunder was continuous. The noise burst like metal fireworks, and then would immediately rise again; its modulations grew less and less defined as the shower let up, until there was only the sound of rain striking paving stones.

“This rain will last all night,” Poe said, lighting another cigarette from the butt of his previous one.

Moments later, the shower stopped. Poe left his stool and pointed at the leaden sky, patched with massive blotches of somber gray so low that it seemed to brush the rooftops. “Don’t let that fool you.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

How You Can Thwart Trump

Wanted to share this piece I read recently about doing more than moaning about Trump. It's time for action, and this is, in my opinion, a good start.

How You Can Thwart Trump By Andy Borowitz
At a post-election show I did, an audience member asked me what he could do, in the next four years, to counteract the damage Trump will do to the country. I loved his question, because it reflected an eagerness to move past despair toward action. I don’t have a complete answer to it, but here’s a first draft. I hope it helps.
1. Political activism. Support candidates at the local, state, and national level who oppose Trump’s agenda of racism, misogyny and anti-Americanism. That means doing the hard, often boring work of political campaigns. (Note: changing your profile pic or sharing a hashtag is not political activism. It’s typing.)
2. Education. Help address our educational system’s decades-long collapse that has produced millions of people ignorant enough to vote for Trump. You can start by getting involved in your local school and school system to improve education from the ground up. If you are retired, or otherwise have free time, volunteer as a tutor. Help our children learn to read, write, and develop critical thinking. We get the politicians we deserve, and an uneducated, illiterate, ignorant nation will get more Trumps (or worse).
3. Information. Boycott the news outlets that pursued profits at the expense of their civic duty during the 2016 election. Are you angry with CNN for helping elect Trump by relentlessly creating false equivalencies between the two Presidential candidates? Don’t just be angry – unsubscribe. (I did.) We get the news media we deserve, too.
4. Set an example. Let’s say you don’t have the time to work on a political campaign or be a tutor. There’s still something else that everyone can do: starting today, ask yourself the question, “What would Trump do?” – and do the exact opposite. Trump wasn’t created in a vacuum; he is the inevitable product of a coarsened culture that rewards bullying over kindness, humiliation over respect, hatred over love. So, from the moment you wake up, be the anti-Trump in all you do. And if you have a child who is exhibiting Trump-like behavior, set him or her straight -- now. Otherwise, a narcissistic nine-year-old in your kitchen could someday be a narcissistic nine-year-old in the White House.
Those are my ideas. You probably have better ones. Please share them. And remember: no matter how depressed you have felt since the election, you are neither helpless nor hopeless. LET’S GET TO WORK.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Writing Tip: The Three Act Structure

Last week I wrote about Plotting. Plotting and structure go hand in hand. You generally determine both once you define your theme, what the story is “about.” Whatever your theme is, the hero needs to deal with it at the end. His character growth is tied into that theme. It’s the foundation of the story.

Here’s a great description of story, from Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith:
“A sympathetic lead character finds himself in trouble of some kind and makes active efforts to get himself out of it. Each effort, however, merely gets him deeper into his trouble, and each new obstacle in his path is larger than the last. Finally, when things look blackest and it seems certain the lead character is finished, he manages to get out of his trouble through his own efforts, intelligence, or ingenuity.” [or in some cases, like Romeo and Juliet, he dies trying.]

It sounds too simple, and yet nearly all the movies and novels produced today follow this story line. Makes no difference if your talking about vampires or space aliens or Shakespeare. In fact, looking at this year’s Oscar nominations, both Hurt Locker and Avatar both apply this perfectly.

But what of this thing called a three act structure? You simple lay the above story line over a framework that has three basic parts – setup, body, resolution. Lets dissect this further. The following is a set of turning points within a three act structure:

Act I
Opening Scene: The opening scene usually has two functions: to introduce the protagonist and hook the reader. It often introduces other characters, and perhaps even hints at the theme.
Inciting Incident: This is the place where you introduce the problem that the protagonist will be dealing with. It sets up a situation where the protag is faced with a choice whether to deal with the problem or walk away.
Hammer: This is the compelling incident that makes the protag decide to solve the problem. From here on out, s/he’s caught up until the problem is solved.
Armature into act II: Once the protag decides to act, s/he sets a series of events in play – events that will blossom in Act 2.

Act II
Act II begins:
 Where as Act I sets up the conflict, Act II lets the conflict play its course, growing larger and more sharp. This is where the protag struggles to solve the problem, yet each effort creates a larger problem.

Midpoint: Stories, as well as characters, have an arc. The midpoint is when the story changes polarity. Many stories, from the protags point of view, move from positive to tragic. For example: Romeo goes to a party, see the girl of his dreams, woos her, and finally marries her. All positive. But at Midpoint, he fights and kills Tibalt. It’s all down hill from there. Now the lovers are parted, Romeo is banished, Juliet is promised to another, and in the end they both die. So it was positive unit midpoint, then all negative.
Other stories start off with the protag in serious trouble and it gets much worse for them until the midpoint, then things begin to get better, and finally end with the hero prevailing. Again, the midpoint is where the polarity changes. And at least for most screenplays, it actually happens pretty close to halfway through the story.
Armature into act III: The conflict between the protag and the antag continues to grow. This is the point just before the darkest moments. If the hero wins in the end, this is a place where s/he has a false victory. That is, they think they’re home free (but in Act 3 they have the rug pulled out from under them.) It is the lead into the final crisis.

Crisis: This is the place where the Hero is turned on his/her head. It looked like s/he was going to win, then they the rug was pulled out from them and it now looks like they are done for.
Climax: At this point in the story, when things look darkest for the hero, s/he uses his/her own efforts, intelligence, compassion or ingenuity to solve the problem and overcome the antagonist.
Resolution: The protag solves the problem and this is where s/he sees the fruits of that solution.

Of course, there are different variations on this particular structure. But you’d be surprised how many stories follow it to a T. Hopefully, I’ve explained it well enough for you to understand each turning point. It’s an interesting exercise to watch a moving, stopping it to consider how closely if falls into this structure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

★★★★★ Simple Treasures Review

My novel, Simple Treasures, resently received a five-star review from Lena Grey at Rainbow Reviews. You can read the entire review at 

He is a portion of that wonderful review:

Dignity is a difficult word to define because it has different meanings depending upon the situation. If I had to define it in one word, for Emmett Bishop of 'Simple Treasures' by Alan Chin, it would be harmony. Emmett is dying and he's lost everything—his wife, his health, and his desire to live; but when Emmett loses harmony with himself and all that is around him, he loses his dignity. Fortunately for Emmett, Simple comes into his life with a solution that enables Emmett to regain his self respect.

As in all of his books, Alan Chin's characters are wonderfully flawed, each one holding the possibility of being an entire story within themselves. In this case, his main character, Simple, is the epitome of all things that appear complex, but in essence are not. Simple is just that–simple, not as in simple-minded, but he's simply uncomplicated. Besides adding mystery to his personality, Simple's loss of memory also makes him less complicated because he has no past; he lives only in the present. Using his Shoshone beliefs, gentle persuasion, and his unwavering humility, he convinces Emmett and his grandson, Jude, that life is far less complicated than they're making it, and by their own actions, are diminishing themselves more than anyone else ever could.

Comparing Emmett and Simple's grandfather is a good way of tying the two together not only for the reader, but for Simple as well. It shows how Simple is able to understand Emmett by what he can remember of his grandfather. It also enhances the relationship between Simple and his grandfather, enabling him to work out some of his own conflict. Emmett's influence on Simple is almost as profound as Simple's is on him. By helping Emmett restore harmony in his life, he also helps Simple find greater peace in his own life.

Jude, Emmett's grandson, is a sad, lonely man, aching for love. He knows he's different and instead of hiding it, flaunts it like a weapon against those who should be loving and accepting but aren't, like his father, Lance, who exemplifies what happens when ego overtakes pride. Simple is a great influence on Jude's life not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually. They fill each other's need for companionship bringing greater peace to both of their lives. 
'Simple Pleasures' is written in Alan Chin's distinctly descriptive, lyrical style, with strong characters and stronger ideals. He even throws in a minilesson in fly-fishing and falconry. If your reading tastes lean toward a good story with more of an intellectual and spiritual bend, then this book may well be one you'll appreciate.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ten Zen Do’s

I follow the Zen path because I’ve found it keeps me balanced in a society that often feels insane. For me, Buddhism is not so much religious dogma, but a philosophy that promotes wellbeing. The following list is what I try to incorporate into my daily activities.

1. Do one thing at a time, focus only on that thing,

2. Do it slowly, deliberately,

3. Do it completely before moving on,

4. Do less, simplify,

5. Develop rituals,

6. Designate time for important things,

7. Sit regularly, focusing on inner calm/wellbeing,

8. Smile with gratitude while serving others,

9. Turn ordinary tasks—cleaning,  gardening, cooking, walking, waiting in line at the store—into meditation,

10. Live simply, and appreciate every breath.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Leaving Trek Alone

Herman and I have had our dog, Trek, for six weeks. Since adopting him, we’ve stayed home much more, eating out less, and enjoying him immeasurably. Yet, we still go out occasionally with friends for dinner, and must leave him at home alone while shopping or doctor visits.

When we’ve left him alone, he’s been great. He doesn’t chew anything, and he’s always happy to see us. And because we always come through the garage when coming home, he always knows when we get back before we even step out of the car because he hears the garage door opening.

But last night was different.

Last night, friends picked us up and drove us to a restaurant. We were gone about three hours, and when they dropped us off at home, we walked up to the front door, rather than the garage. That’s when we got a shock. Because the garage door didn’t open, Trek didn’t know we were home. As I reached up to put then key into the front door, I heard him crying, a low-pitched howl that was the saddest sound I’ve ever heard. Herman and I both leaned close to the door to hear better, and he was howling/crying continuously. We knew he’d been crying the whole time we were gone.

It was heartbreaking. This happy little guy who brings us so much joy was in agony because he hates to be alone. Herman and I feel so guilty for causing this pain.

We’ll be staying home even more now. And we need to find a solution to this problem—we’re thinking of either leaving him with a babysitter or getting a second dog—when we need to be away from the house and can’t take him with us.

We are grateful that we discovered this problem.