Archive for January, 2015

Influences In My Life – part 3

By Alan Chin

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I have had three men in my life who have deeply influenced me, each one at a different phase of my development as a human being. The first was my father, who shepherded me into manhood. The second was my first lover, who I lived with for sixteen years, and who taught me the value of education, and infused me with the tools to become successful. The third is my husband and soul mate, who more than anyone, has taught me—through example—to be a compassionate human being. In all three cases, it was not their accomplishments that had an impact on me, but rather, the strength of their character that shaped that part of my life.

 

Today, I’ll complete this series by focusing on my husband. I met Herman Chin at the San Francisco opera about two years after my divorce with John Ahrens. At the time we met, we were very attracted to each other but Herman was happily married to Steve, and had been for twenty-one years. I met Steve, and found him to be a decent and exceedingly likeable man. Herman and I frequently met over coffee or dinners (I couldn’t call it dating, and we couldn’t really push it any further) for about six months, and in all that time I knew he was the man for me, yet I never thought he would leave Steve, and I refused to asked him to do so. Little did I know, early on, he told Steve he was falling in love with me, and the two often talked about them splitting up so Herman could live with me.author7

 

Things came to a head when Herman asked me to join him on a month-long vacation to Egypt, Italy, and France. He said it would be only us two, and we would be lovers, at least while on this trip. When he made it clear that Steve had given this trip his blessing, I jumped at it. We shared what turned out to be the most marvelous adventure of my life. At some point between climbing five-thousand-year-old pyramids and wandering the backstreets of Rome, we realized we were not simply lovers, we were soul mates—or to be more accurate, we were one soul split into two bodies. Within a few weeks of returning to the States, Herman moved into my house, and we have not spent a night apart in twenty years.

 

On that first trip abroad, Herman became my guide, both in foreign cultures and in love. He and Steve had traveled through Europe several times, and he knew the ropes of maneuvering an unfamiliar culture. It was during that first trip that our roles were defined—he the guide, me the follower; me the lover, he the loved. And during that time we began a project I call, Humanizing Alan. You see, by that time in my life I’d become a man driven by ambitions, first to climb the corporate ladder and later to become a successful writer. I had become a goal-oriented animal, an aggressive competitor, with little thought to the people around me. I had bought into the American dream of greed and achievement hook, line, and sinker.

 

Herman, on the other hand, owned a small dental lab where he and two employees made false teeth. He purposely kept his business small so he could supervise all aspects of his trade and keep personal relationships with his dentist clients. He was an artist, whose artwork ended up in peoples’ mouths, and he was content to live modestly, without striving to become more of anything. He and I were very different, as I had spent half my life striving to become successful, and I felt I had a long way to go.

 

It was Herman’s example of non-striving that convinced me to finally walk away from Corporate America and follow my dream of writing. He convinced me that I already had achieved everything I needed, was already everything I needed to be. So in 1999, after a year of serious discussions, we both took a leap of faith and retired from the world of business. He and I turned forty-five that year. I began to write. He began to travel, and of course, I followed.

 

It was during our travels that the Humanizing Alan project really kicked into high gear. There is nothing, in my humble opinion, that makes one reevaluate one’s own culture and beliefs more than immersing one’s self in foreign cultures. Contrast can be a very powerful teaching tool, and what is even more powerful is living in an environment where you’re the minority, the odd man out, the one children point and laugh at. Simply being in a country where you don’t speak the language, where you depend on the kindness of those not as fortunate as you, is a humbling and humanizing experience. At first you realize, really know, you are no better than them. Then you realize you are them. Soon, you begin to love them. And finally, you begin to love yourself.

 

Herman and Alan in LA

Herman and Alan in LA

Herman and I travel four to six months each year. In our twenty years together, we have visited over fifty different countries, and have twice circled the globe. We have dined in the best restaurants in Europe, scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, rode elephants in Nepal and India, gone on safari in Africa, chanted with monks in Tibet, hiked the Great Wall, and trekked to ancient ruins like Angkor Wat and the Pyramids of Giza. This spring we plan to tackle South America for the first time.

 

Without Herman as my guide, I fear I would have never had the courage to leave the States. He has shown me the world, and how to love all the people in it. In the process, he’s made me a more compassionate person. I’m not quite ready for sainthood, but each day my ego dies a little bit more, and my empathy for the people around me grows. This, more than anything, is what Herman has taught me, not by lectures, but by example. I’ve literally seen him walk through the slums of Calcutta and embrace the people there, as he does in every country we visit.

 

These days I continue to publish books; I’m now working on number ten. But the idea of being a success is meaningless. I write because I am compelled to write, it brings great pleasure. I publish to see my words in print and to share my stories with anyone who chooses to read them. My only goal at this point in life is to make my husband as happy as possible.

 

 

 

 

Buddhas Bad Boys

Influences In My Life – part 2

By Alan Chin

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I have had three men in my life who have deeply influenced me, each one at a different phase of my development as a human being. The first was my father, who shepherded me into manhood. The second was my first lover, who I lived with for sixteen years, and who taught me the value of education, and infused me with the tools to become successful. The third is my husband and soul mate, who more than anyone, has taught me—through example—to be a compassionate human being. In all three cases, it was not their accomplishments that had an impact on me, but rather, the strength of their character that shaped that part of my life.

 

For this second installment, I’ll focus on my first lover. I met John Aherns in Corpus Christy, Texas while stationed on the naval base in Kingsville, Texas. He was living in Huston at the time, and for several months we carried on a long-distance relationship, spending two or three weekends a month together. It was nothing too serious because I knew I would be leaving Texas the very minute I received my discharge from the Navy, but he was handsome and successful and more refined than anyone I’d ever known, so I was determined to spend as much time as possible with him. But about six months before my discharge, to my surprise and delight, John quit his Huston job and moved to Kingsville, announcing that when I left for California, he was coming with me. I moved off base, lived with John in a studio garage apartment, and we got along like a house on fire. So began a sixteen-year project of what I like to call, Educating Alan.

 

We started this project when John joined a book club that sent us one leather-bound, classic per month. He and I would both read the book and then spend several days discussing the meaning, characters, and style. For me, there was something wondrous about reading a finely made, leather-bound book. I loved the feel and smell of the pages, the weight of it. I confused the act of learning with the smell of fine leather. I saw myself doing something that only, or so I thought, intellectuals did—sit quietly for hours on end reading important books. Not all of those books were a pleasure to read, but each one was a stepping-stone to a place of more confidence for me. As the number of books on our little shelf grew, I began to imagine a room filled with bookshelves that were crammed with tomes, all mine, where I’d spend my time letting literary people carry me away into distant adventures. Thus, we joined two more book clubs, receiving three books a month, and I began to see that dream take shape.

 

Those early months were more than just reading, of course. It was a time when I learned, quite unexpectedly, that I could have a loving, monogamous relationship with a man. Until that point, I had assumed that my life as a gay man would be hanging out in bars, always on the lookout for someone to spend a few precious hours with, or days and possibly even weeks or months if I really scored.  It seemed like such a lonely future, but John—in those quiet hours of reading together, of cooking a meal and watching TV over dinner, of crawling into bed with the same wonderful man every night—showed me a loving relationship was not only possible, I was already living the dream. I think it was during that time of awakening to what we had, what we were, that turned my admiration of John into love for him.

 

After I was discharged from the Navy and we had settled into an apartment in Sunnyvale, California, John took a Computer Programmer’s job in San Francisco, and I landed a job operating construction heavy equipment in what is now Silicon Valley. John convinced me to attend night school at De Anza Community College. By that time I had begun to realize how woefully inadequate my education was, and it was never so obvious as when we attended parties of his work colleagues, and they would look down their noses at me, talking down to me as whispering behind my back (loud enough for me to hear) calling me, “John’s sexy nitwit” (the term boy toy was not invented yet.)  I became hungry to catch up, to show them all. This would be a pattern for nearly our entire sixteen-year relationship, him working one job and taking care of me, me working a fulltime, lower-paying job during the day while attending night school.

 

Two years after moving to Sunnyvale, I finally decided on a career path to study for. I wanted to program computers, like John. There was an opening at his company for an entry-level person, basically a gofer, that paid next to nothing. I took that job, we moved to San Francisco, and I began attending SF State, taking a half load at night.

The next five or six years were among the most exciting and colorful years of my life. Being gay and living in hottest gay hub in the world was exciting enough, but once I began taking computer classes and working my way up the corporate ladder, I felt like a man with a mission and a full head of steam. For the first time in my life, I had lofty goals and the confidence to know that, with enough commitment, I could achieve those goals. My attitude became: nothing will stop me, I will become as good as the best of them. John had created a monster, and there was no turning back. There are times, now, when I picture a mountain climber, struggling up K2, exhausting himself with each heavy lift of his boot, and each lurch up the slope, until he’s expended every ounce of energy. But he finally crawls his way to the summit, and then stands tall while shaking his fists at the valleys below.

 

Over the next decade, we moved from San Francisco to Sausalito, and two years later we moved further north to San Rafael where we bought a lovely three-bedroom home. As I steadily climbed the corporate ladder, I also hung my diplomas on the wall—Associates of Arts degree in Computer Science, a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. In all that time, John continued to help me with my schoolwork, proofread my papers, giving me encouragement. While working toward by economics degree, he even took classes with me so he could better help me. And in all that time, we continued our reading together and discussing books. He also introduced me to opera, classical music, and jazz, giving me lessons in what’s considered the fine arts.

 

I had originally entered the writing program at the University of San Francisco as a way to improve my business writing skill, but the by time I had attained my degree, I had fallen in love with the creative aspects of writing fiction. My dreams had changed. I no longer wanted to continue climbing the corporate ladder. By that time, there were only three rungs left to climb, and I had become frustrated with corporate management. I wanted to quit and become a full time writer. I was caught in the early stages of a midlife crises. The problem, however, was that John was already eyeball deep in his own crises and wanted to cut and run. We made a deal, I would support him while he went to medical school to become a physician’s assistant (he felt a strong need to help sick people) and once he had a good paying job again, he would support me while I walked away from Corporate American to become a full time writer.

 

Our roles were reversed for the first time. I was working like a dog while he attended school at UC Davis, and I would help write his papers. But cutting our household income in half had a dramatic effect on both of us, and the stress became unbearable. It took years for John to achieve his degree, and I supported him for most of that time, but the stress of both of us in a midlife crisis and not enough money to pay all the bills at the end of the month took its toll on our relationship. He eventually moved out of our San Rafael house, and I got a loan to purchase his half of the house in order to give him the money to finish his schooling.

 

Breaking up with John, I think, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, even more emotionally damaging than the death of my father. It became a drawn out, painful process that took several years to recover from. For sixteen years, John was my lover, my teacher, and the epitome of everything I wanted to achieve. He patiently guided me down a path, starting at dirt stupid and ending at reasonably intelligent. By the end of our relationship, I had attained my goal—I was his equal in intelligence, career level, and earning power. And the funny thing was, as is human nature, by the time I had attained those dreams, I no longer valued them.

 

John and I are best friends today. He and his husband, Jeffery, live in the mountains a short three-hour drive away. Herman and I regularly visit them, and we all enjoy each other’s company. John and I still love each other, but we are happier living apart.

Part 3 “Influences in my Life” will post tomorrow

Buddhas Bad Boys

Influences In My Life – part 1

By Alan Chin

Alan Pic 1

My life has not been filled with influential people. I’ve known numerous men and women who I have admired, but for the most part, I did not come to know any of them personally, and because of that, they held little inspiration for me.

 

My family, on both mother’s and father’s side, had no notable personalities, or at least nobody who could claim any pronounced abilities or achievements. I come from a family of farmers and ranchers. I did, later in life, come to hold my grandfather in high regard, because he could neither read nor write, and yet he worked a rather sizable farm in Ogden, Utah, and raised seven conscientious children. He was a man who worked hard all his life, and expected nothing more than what he earned for himself and his family. His only goal was to instill a sense of integrity into his children, and pass on something to each one of them to help them get started in life. As his children grew of age and married, he parceled off one-seventh of his land and gave it to them as a wedding present, until he had nothing left—rather like King Lear. But because my father moved us to California, not only did we forfeit the land, I rarely saw that honorable man.

 

I have had three men in my life who have deeply influenced me, each one at a different phase of my development as a human being. The first was my father, who shepherded me into manhood. The second was my first lover, who I lived with for sixteen years, and who taught me the value of education, and infused me with the tools to become successful. The third is my husband and soul mate, who more than anyone, has taught me—through example—to be a compassionate human being. In all three cases, it was not their accomplishments that had an impact on me, but rather, the strength of their character that shaped that part of my life.

 

I’ll first focus on my father. Bernard Franklin Hurlburt was born into a family of sheepherders in Western Colorado, up around Grand Junction. Shortly after entering the seventh grade, he was forced (I suspect it didn’t take much encouragement) to abandon school and work the ranch through depressed times. That turned into a hard, dull life, which he was finally able to escape via the United States Marines. He enlisted as soon as he came of age, and I believe that all his life, he considered his stint in the Marines as the happiest time of his life.

 

As a young solider, Bernard was footloose, handsome in his dress blues, and had money in his pockets to impress the girls. He was, by all accounts, a ladies man. By the time he reached his twenty-first birthday, he met a beautiful deaf girl of eighteen years, and he fell in love. He met my mother, a farmer’s daughter, in Ogden, Utah. I’m not altogether sure whether he was on leave or stationed nearby. I do know that they met while he was still in the service of his country, and that she was the main reason he left the Marines for civilian life. They were wed and took up residence in Ogden.

 

Bernard had no skills other than ranching sheep and precision marching (as a marine, he was a member of a precision drill team). For years, he hung around a mechanic shop in Ogden, learning the trade of auto repair. Those were hard times, because he didn’t get a salary. Members of the Mormon Church dropped by weekly with a box of food. The rest of our food came from my grandfather’s farm. Clothes were all hand-me-downs. My mother tells of walking to the general store and bringing home discarded, cardboard boxes, and then unfolding the boxes flat and nailing them to the walls so keep the winter wind from coming through the gaps between the boards. The first few years of my life were spent in a shack. The rent was ten dollars per month, and in two years we fell six months behind on the rent.

 

By the time I was two years old, Bernard landed a paying job as a auto-body repairman, and life got easier—at least my family didn’t rely on the Church to feed us. By the time I was five, my father had grown tired of my mother’s protective family giving him grief, and he moved us all to San Jose, California. There he bought a house and opened his own auto repair shop and towing company. Life began looking better, but was by no means Ozzie and Harriet.

 

Throughout my grade school and high school years my father kept food on the table and clothes on our backs through working his shop, The Santa Clara Body Shop. Life was still difficult, much harder for him that I realized at the time, because he couldn’t read and he needed an adding machine to do even simple arithmetic. Add to that he developed a drinking problem and liked to chase women. Mother, being deaf, totally depended on him for income. It became a heavy burden for him, and as the years drew on, the burden became heavier.

 

Those school years in San Jose are the time he held the most influence over me. He taught me valuable life lessons, molded my character, and also taught me destructive behavior.

 

My father was a man with many qualities, and the foremost was his tendency to take risks. When people told him he couldn’t do something because he didn’t have the education or the money or the knowhow, he found a way. Once he set his mind on something, his determination grew as strong as tempered steel. As the example above, learning a new career, his fortitude kept him showing up at that mechanic shop, day after day, year after year, doing odd jobs for no pay, because he knew someday it would pay off, some day he would be his own boss.

 

More than any man I’ve ever known, he made the most with the hand life dealt him, and he never let his shortcomings stop him from attaining something he truly wanted. I remember learning to ski with him. He refused to pay for lessons or rent proper equipment (which was so typical of him). We simply borrowed someone’s old, dilapidated skis, boots and poles, took the chairlift to the most difficult runs, pointed our skis down hill, and flew until we fell. Then we picked ourselves up, point the skis down hill again, and off we sailed until the next fall. At the end of the first week, we could make it down most of the slopes without falling, and we never returned the borrowed skis. That was how he rolled, and that’s the paramount lesson he taught me—never be afraid to go after something, no matter the obstacles. Just do it, and keep doing it until you become good at it.

 

Even at an early age I admired him for his determination, his grit. I still do.

 

The negative side of that equation, however, was that early on, he drummed it into my head that I didn’t need an education to become successful. As long as I didn’t dream too large, reach too high, I could blow off schooling, which is what I did. I became, like him, streetwise, and held a mild distain for people who worshiped in the halls of higher education. I became convinced that I could live a comfortable life by not playing by the rules, or more accurately, by living by my father’s set of bull-in-a-china-shop rules, and living by the seat of my pants.

 

So high school was a waste for me, I never cracked a book; I learned little or nothing there. That attitude was fortified during my four years in the US Navy, where I got along quite well without being educated. In the navy I was in my element, surrounded by others like me, being always governed by the officers (men who were college educated).

 

It wasn’t until I met my first husband, John Aherns, that my dreams grew larger than my education. John was cultivated, professional, and respected. He worked as a computer analyst, spent money frivolously, and for whatever inexplicable reason, he became enamored by me. Almost over night, he quickly became everything I wanted to be. Because of John, I was no longer content to live a smallish life, held back by the limitations my father had pounded into me. My dreams expanded, like climbing a trifling foothill, only to finally see the glorious mountain range beyond.

 

I will always be both grateful and resentful of my father’s lessons. It has taken a lifetime to undo that initial damage, yet he also instilled the determination to never give up, to dream big and make it happen, even if it takes a lifetime.

Part 2 “Influences in my Life” will post tomorrow

Buddhas Bad Boys

How Much of You Goes Into Your Characters?

By PJ Trebelhorn

Up The Ante 300 DPI

 

What author hasn’t heard this question before? Usually, the answer is there’s a little bit of me in every character I write. That’s been fairly true of me, until now. In my new release, Up the Ante, there’s a lot of me in Jordan Stryker. A lot.

First of all, there’s poker. I love poker. I’m not really good at it, but I love playing. I’ve played in a couple of tournaments at local casinos, but never finished higher than 36th. It was however, my love of poker that led me to write this story. It soon became much more than a story about a poker player though.

When I first started thinking about Jordan and Ashley, the only thing I knew for sure was that they had both been in law enforcement, and they’d had an affair several years earlier. As I began writing,   it soon became clear to me that Jordan had Multiple Sclerosis. She was diagnosed with the disease at the age of forty, just as I had been. Forty is fairly old to get this diagnosis, as it’s usually found when someone is in their twenties or thirties.

I don’t take Jordan through the process of being diagnosed, mainly because it’s a long process. When she finds out she has MS, Jordan resigns from her job as an FBI agent to pursue a career as a professional poker player. Sadly, I was never an FBI agent, nor do I have the confidence or skill level to play poker professionally.

It’s not an easy diagnosis. I went through months of testing—MRIs, Cat scans, nerve tests, and even a spinal tap. That one was fun, let me tell you. Because I was diagnosed at 40, I also had to have diagnostic testing to determine if I’d had a heart attack, or even a mini stroke. Basically, they rule out everything else it might be before coming to the conclusion it’s MS.

It’s a scary diagnosis. The only reference I had of the disease was the wife of a man I worked for a few years before. I don’t know how long she’d been living with MS when I first met her, but she was confined to a wheelchair. She had a nurse to care for her while her husband was working, because she couldn’t do anything for herself. And that was the first thing I thought of when the neurologist finally gave me my diagnosis. There’s no cure, and really, there’s very little research done on the disease because not enough people have it to justify the resources it would take. That makes it what they call an “orphan” disease. They don’t even know what causes MS.

A lot of Jordan’s fears are my fears as well. If I’d been single, I have no doubt I would have kept people from getting too close to me. And I also wonder sometimes if I’ve been given the wrong diagnosis. But inevitably I’ll have a relapse, and then those doubts go out the window.

As it was, I’d been nine years into a relationship when I got my diagnosis. Cheryl assured me she wasn’t going anywhere, and this year we’ll celebrate nineteen years together, as well as our first wedding anniversary. She really is my rock.

I never intended to write a character with MS. It just wasn’t something I ever thought about doing. Now that it’s done, I’m glad I didn’t walk away from it when I realized Jordan had the disease. It was difficult at times to write the character because so much of her was personal to me. But in the end, because Jordan hit so close to home, she’s become one of my favorite characters. I’m hoping you’ll like her too.

Up The Ante 300 DPI

Black Holes, Swordfish, and Roller Coasters

By Andrea Bramhall

There are days when I wake up and I’m in awe of how lucky I am. Today’s one of those days. It’s cold but the sun’s shining brightly, the sea is calm, the phone’s ringing off the hook, and life is good.

It’s also just been a few days since the release of my new book, Swordfish. Blurb alert!

Cassandra “Cassie” Finsbury has spent almost twenty-five years running for her life, hiding from everyone who knew her, and hoping it was enough to keep her daughter safe. When she learns that she no longer has to run, she is determined to find Daniela again and hires private investigator Bailey Davenport, a retired FBI agent, who is more than up to the task. Bailey finds nothing more irresistible than a mystery and a challenge, and in Cassie, she finds both.

Can Bailey find the key to unlock more than just Cassie’s secrets?

This is the sequel to my very first novel, Ladyfish, Ladyfish 300 DPIand the book I spent two years too-ing and fro-ing about how best to explain Cassie’s past. Because it got a teeny bit complicated. Lol. Okay, a lot complicated.

Cassie is a woman who has spent decades running—hiding—putting her life on hold for the sake of someone else and spent years frozen by an horrific trauma. It would have been very easy for Cassie to become the victim, and little more than that. But I never saw her in that way. Yes, she went through Hell. Yes, she came out the other side wounded, scarred, and sacred, but she never broke. To me, Cassie is probably the strongest character I’ve ever had the pleasure of living in my head. Heck, she even taught me a few things.

I know, I sound a bit crazy, but for me—and I know it’s true for some other writer’s out there—these characters live. They talk to us, not in a creepy tell you to burn stuff down kind of way, but in a way that they can guide and help you. Usually just to tell their story. They can be a bit selfish that way. But In Cassie’s case she was much more giving.

Every character I create comes from a place inside me. I know, that sounds obvious, but hang in with me a minute and you’ll see where I’m going with this. Every character has a little something of me in them. And I do mean everyone. Good guys and bad guys. It’s my way of connecting with them, of making them real to me, and making whole characters rather than flat two dimensional ones that are just a jumble of actions and words that don’t make sense. Now, that can make writing some things very dark. If you read this book, you’ll meet Masood and see what I mean, but it can also be enlightening. This is what I mean when I say Cassie taught me things.

In connecting with Cassie, I connected with a part of myself I didn’t realize existed. A strength to persevere.

I have spoken in the past about my difficulties with mental health issues. I suffer from depression. The big black hole that sucks all the joy and color from the world. That drains me of energy, motivation, and will. Even the energy to care that I’ve stopped caring is too much. I fear being found out, and fear that no-one will help me in equal measure. And I hate myself that I’m not strong enough to stop the spiral before it’s too late. It’s a recurring problem. Like a never ending rollercoaster, up and down, that drags me along, clinging by my fingernails, and wondering when I’ll just fly off. Wondering if anyone would notice, and wondering if I’d even care. And it’s something I had been struggling with again before writing SwordfishSwordfish 300 DPI.

Day after day I worried that I’d never make my deadline. So I sat down at my laptop and I started to write. I found myself writing my own growing despair in the rubble of Masood’s past, I found myself letting out my loneliness in the emptiness of Bailey’s apartment. My guilt was manifested in Finn’s self recrimination, and my impotence in Oz’s inability to help her the way she felt she should. But when I started writing Cassie’s first scenes I found something else. Resilience. She was able to put her past in the past and seek out that which she most desired, despite her fear, and in those pages I learned that that emotion, that trait had to come from somewhere. It had to be somewhere in me.

This was the first time in my history that I’ve been able to come through a period of depression without medication. The first time I could find the light without someone else shining the torch. The first time I was able to help myself out of the darkness.

I’ve always maintained that words have the power to change the world. I’ve always said that I write to maintain my sanity.

Before Cassie, I never really knew just how true that was.

Now, before the men with strait jackets appear and cart me off, I’d like to offer a book giveaway. Send me an email to andreabramhall@rocketmail.com with BSB Swordfish Giveaway in the subject line, and I’ll enter you into the draw. Let me know if you prefer an eBook or a signed paperback and I’ll draw the winner at noon GMT on January the 26th. (It’s easy for me to remember that as it’s my birthday ;))

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy Swordfish.

Bold Strokes Books Author Interview with Frederick Smith

By Connie Ward

FrederickSmithLg

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

            I’ve always been a writer and storyteller type. I entered writing contests from elementary school through college. I’ve kept a journal since ninth grade. I wrote for high-school and college newspapers. In college and grad school, it was all about academic writing. In higher education, I write reports, proposals, and assessments all the time. So writing is natural to me.

But fiction writing is what I always gravitated toward. There’s something about the freedom that comes from having an idea and then expanding it with twists, turns, and “what if’s” that I get to make up is so gratifying.

I’ve always had this thing for wanting people to know what I’m doing and working on, so the idea of being a public fiction writer was always a goal of mine. I don’t write with an audience in mind, but I do write knowing that I want an audience for my writing.

 

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

            I like writing the kinds of stories that I like to read. I like writing about characters’ identities, struggles, and navigating life when mainstream society doesn’t validate or care about those identities. I write contemporary stories of black and brown people, some middle-class and degree-educated and some not, and people living lives that don’t make the six o’clock news.

With the current #Ferguson, #HandsUpDontShoot, #BlackLivesMatter movements happening across the U.S., people are finally realizing that people live and experience life differently in the U.S. I write stories about people whose stories aren’t often validated or seen as reality by many people in the U.S.—people of color, queer, working-class, etc… It’s important and personal to me, this fiction writing aspect of my life.

           

 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

            Everyone loves it and treats me like I’m some kind of genius or hot-shot because I’ve written works that have been published. I’m flattered but not ego-driven by their accolades. I do love it, though, when someone pulls me aside and goes, “So, this book of yours…” Best feeling ever.

 

 

Where do you get your ideas?

            I’m nosy. I’m a good listener. And I’m a good observer of life around me and of people’s social-media posts. So like a conversation with a stranger or a friend, seeing something that someone writes online or watching the news can be a jump-off point for a writing idea or story. I think my academic life causes me to always ask “what if?” or “why?” or “what causes this?” And those same questions I apply to fiction-writing ideas. I especially like it when I hear a student, co-worker, or friend say something funny—a phrase, something that happened to them, etc…—and that can give me an idea for a scene or character interaction for something I’m working on.

 

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

            For fiction, I usually plan the beginnings a little more than the middles and ends of stories. I usually know my main character and have that person planned out. To me, beginnings are everything—they’re what draws readers in and gets them situated in the story you’re going to tell. Everything and everyone else comes in as needed and as the story unfolds—especially backstory details. I wish I was one of those “outline everything” kind of fiction writers, but that method works better for writing papers than writing novels for me.

            For me, writing in the early morning works best. And when I say early morning, I’m talking pre-dawn, like 4 or 5 am. It’s when my head is less cluttered with life and to-do lists, and I can focus clearly on my characters and stories. I get and jot down ideas during the day, but my most productive writing time is early morning.

 

 

What makes Play It Forward  special to you?

            Play it ForwardPlay it Forward is my special “surprise baby” because it’s been a few years since my last published novel came out. I’m really grateful to Bold Strokes Books for taking a chance on my work; the BSB family has been wonderfully supportive. That support makes this publication process very special to me.

This novel is also special because it speaks to a lot of the current social issues and community needs that exist for the Black & Queer communities (and the intersection of those identities). My characters discuss the idea of #BlackLivesMatter, not in terms of the current movement around police brutality/murders of innocent and unarmed young Black people, but in terms of mainstream society ignoring, not being aware of, not even thinking about Black and Black Queer people and their lives and experiences. Play it Forward is very much centered in grassroots, community issues, which is a reflection of the work and life I lead in my day job. I hope you find Play it Forward as special as I do.

 

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

None of these characters are friends, family, or me in the literal sense.  I don’t use my writing for personal therapy, though I find journals helpful for working through issues. But, in the sense that my characters are unapologetically and empowered Black, Latino, Queer, or regular everyday people…my characters represent the people I’m around everyday. I live in Los Angeles, so my works are always set here. I’m also originally from the Midwest, so I always create a character or two who is a West Coast transplant from the Midwest as a way to mirror what’s a major L.A. theme—

that L.A. is a place of transplants who’ve moved here to seek some kind of dream.

 

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

  1. Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy were the first two Black Queer authors whose books I read. I love their work, and knowing their work existed spoke volumes to me. They’re the pioneers. Of course, James Baldwin is the major pioneer whose work opened doors, mind, and thought about the intersections of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class in his fiction and non-fiction. Those three are inspirations to me.

            In 2005-2009, there was a wonderful Black Queer Renaissance of films, novels, blogs, websites devoted to the Black Queer experience, and many of those artists are my friends and circle. And they’re still producing work that’s relevant to the Black Queer community. Keith Boykin, Rashid Darden, Fiona Zedde, Sheree L. Greer, Brian Banks, Dayne Avery, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Daniel Black, Trent Jackson, Skyy, Quincy LeNear, Deondray Gossett, Nathan Hale Williams, and many more come to mind as contemporary inspirations and favorites.

           

 

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

            My main suggestion is finding a supportive circle of people who share the same dream of writing and/or publishing wherever you are. So that could be joining writer’s groups, enrolling in creative-writing classes, or finding a supportive online writing community (though with online writing communities, I’d offer some caution—you don’t really know people and their motives for feed-backing or critiquing or hating on your work). For me, when I knew I wanted to realize being a published writer, I knew I had to be strategic and get into/around a circle of writers. Taking a creative-writing class at a local University was the door that opened to improving my writing and to publication.

            Everything else is really on you as a new writer—when you write, how much you write, what you write. But I always say it’s important to let people know what you’re working on, what’s coming up, creating a brand or image that represents your body of work.            

 

 

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

            So my life’s theme is Work After Work. I’m a workaholic, a busy body, and I’m always thinking about what I need and want to do. Being busy is my fun. I can’t stay still and do nothing. It feels weird.

Before work, I write, blog, or do social-media work. After my day job at the University, and a quick gym trip—a must—I start my evening work—

working on my author brand, publicity, keeping an online presence related to my novels; and the other work is my academic life—reading and writing related to Student Affairs, Cultural and Gender Centers, and student life in Higher Education. I’m also applying to doctoral programs in Educational Leadership in Higher Education, and that is a fun and busy process.

I make time on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC and the related #Nerdland community that live tweets during the show. That’s a fun, progressive, and forward-thinking community. Yep, I geek out on my Saturday and Sunday mornings with #Nerdland.

With Work After Work, I can usually find a sliver of fun time on Saturday evenings—dancing or dinners with friends. I like to cook, work out, go to the mall, watch independent films and documentaries, and I love talking social-justice and equity issues with my circle of friends and academics. And as readers will see, social justice and equity are themes that weave through Play It Forward and all my novels.


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