On the site with us today is Alan Chin, author of Island Song which has received rave reviews and critical acclaim. Alan has written another book, The Lonely War, which has just been released.
Hello Alan and welcome. You are probably the most traveled author I have ever interviewed. I read another interview where you said that you had visited over 40 countries. Now it’s probably nearing 50 since you’re on the road again. So why don’t we open the interview by having you tell us about your current adventure around the world and the purpose of this trip.
Hi Wave, and thanks for this opportunity. Writers always love talking about themselves and their work, and I am no exception. Yes, my husband and I have traveled to many cool places in the last twelve years. Our current adventure takes us first to southeast China, where we participated in a celebration at the Chin village, where my father-in-law was raised. It’s a four block area of stone buildings in the center of miles of rice paddies. Everyone in the village is a Chin, and they had built a new community center. About thirty Chins from the U.S. flew in for the ribbon cutting, and they invited a thousand people from other villages to a huge banquet with great food, music, dancing, and fireworks. It was really quite thrilling, and we were treated as honored guests. I’ve never eaten so much or so well in my life.
We’re currently in Hong Kong, and will fly to Bangkok in four days. We’ll spend a total of three months in Thailand – the land of smiles. Half of that time will be in the north, Chang Mai, where the hill tribe people live. The other half will be spent on the southern island of Phuket, where we’re renting a house a short walk from our favorite beach. Of all our travels, Thailand is one of our favorite places to visit. After Thailand, we’ll spend a few weeks in northern Viet Nam, then another week back in Hong Kong.
As for the purpose of our trip, I’ll be working on a novel and two screenplays, and my husband, Herman, will be relaxing and enjoying the sights.
Of all the countries that you have visited, which one stayed with you the longest? What was the best memory?
That’s a tough one. We’ve had so many wonderful adventures in different parts of the world. The one I still dream about was being on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. I didn’t like the towns in East Africa, but the countryside was magical, the animals breathtaking. We got so close to a pride of lions in the wild I could have reached out and grabbed one’s ear. We were that close to the animals. It was awesome. We also went on safari in India and Nepal, looking for tiger. In those two countries we traveled on elephant through the forest, rather than in jeeps. Riding an elephant’s back is not at all comfortable, but it certainly is memorable.
What can you tell us about Alan Chin the author and the person?
I’m generally a quiet man who spends the majority of his time in his head, dealing with his characters and story structures. My passions are my husband, writing, traveling, tennis, and people, in that order. Herman and I don’t go out much when we’re at home, and when we travel, we tend to try as much as possible to live the way the locals do – preferring guesthouses to hotels, and eat in hole-in-the-wall restaurants. We like simple not fancy, and we love spending time with ourselves.
What drives Alan Chin?
Wish I knew. I get these characters and stories in my head, and the only way to get them out is to write them down.
I’ve grown to love that process, the creative process of not only getting a story written, but writing it to the best of my abilities. There is something inside me that is driven to become a better writer, better storyteller. I sometimes feel I will never be good enough, that I will always strive to improve my craft, and that’s ok. I’ve got a long way to go.
You have been writing your first published novel Island Song since 2003. This book was released in August of 2008 by Zumaya Boundless. What was it like to finally have Island Song published after so many disappointments? What was the best part?
The funny thing was, that by the time it was published, I was working on my third novel and planning my fourth. As thrilling as it was to hold that puppy in my hands, the best thing about it was that it was finished, finally. I could move on to my other stories without looking back. I loved that story, still do, which is why I stuck with it so long, rewriting, rewriting. But what a blessing to have it done and be able to share it with others.
What is it about the Polynesian culture that appeals to you?
I love all cultures. People everywhere are fascinating. Polynesians, however, have a laid-back, easygoing lifestyle that I envy. It’s a playful attitude towards life that I wish more people had, including me.
Your next book is The Lonely War. Can you tell us briefly what the story is about?
The majority of The Lonely War takes place in a WWII Japanese prisoner of war camp. It is both a story of love and survival. To save the life of the officer he loves, seaman Andrew Waters must make a painful decision that will turn the entire population of the POW camp, including the man he loves, against him. He will be branded a traitor, the enemy’s whore. But to get the drugs to save the life of the man he loves, he will undergo any humiliation, any hardship, even death. But sometimes the gods take pity on a noble spirit, and they turn sacrifice into blessings, hardships into joy. For readers who are interested, they can read the opening chapter of The Lonely War at:
What do you consider to be your most important achievement as an author? Why?
My most important achievement was publishing a story that touched other people, some deeply. I say this based on emails and feedback I’ve received from a number of readers. Island Song is a story that many readers relate to, and continue to relate to long after they finish the last page. The fact that I touched a chord deep within someone, and had them examine their own values and experiences, is huge in my estimation. That is what storytelling is about, having people relate and grow through your words and ideas. It’s a special feeling whenever I get an email from a reader, telling me what that story meant to them. I love that feeling.
What to you is the most challenging aspect of writing, other than marketing, which many authors find difficult?
Creating realistic characters who struggle with universal truths and issues, and against the odds find a way to prevail. It’s a thing all writers, I believe, struggle with: creating characters with depth, believable characters that we can see ourselves in, characters we can relate to on many levels. I strive to create characters that make me, as a writer and reader, reflect on my life challenges and disappointments. That’s what my favorite writers do for me, and what I attempt to do in my stories.
You have a column in eXaminer.com. How did you get this gig? <g>
A fellow writer, who wrote the same sort of thing for Latino writers, turned me on to Examiner.com. I wrote them an email pitching the idea of a LGBT literature column and someone besides me thought it was a great idea. It’s really starting to take off, which is great for both authors and readers.
You interview many fellow authors on eXaminer.com. Which interview was the most exciting for you – this is not necessarily the most famous author you have interviewed, but the one who made you stand up and cheer?
I have been very lucky to interview some very gifted writers for my column. The one I enjoyed the most was Victor Banis for two reasons. One, he’s a personal friend who I dearly love and I’ve always enjoyed any contact with Victor. Second, I admire and respect his opinions on writing and storytelling. Victor has been around the block a few times when it comes to storytelling, long enough to have honed his craft and be able to talk intelligently about it. I feel honored to have had Victor do my first interview for Examiner.com.
On a personal level, can I ask you a question? You can answer or delete the question if you wish. You and Herman, your husband, were the first gay couple to be married in Marin County in California. With the advent of Prop 8 does that mean that you’re no longer married or are all the marriages before Prop 8 took effect still valid?
We are still legally married, as are all the marriages performed before Prop 8 took effect. But even if they had
invalidated our legal status, they will never be able to take our marriage from us. We performed our ceremony, had our day, made our vows. Only death with strip us of that. We had been together for fifteen years before making our vows, but even so, it made a difference I can still feel. I can’t wait for the day when all people across the world can legally marry the person or persons they love. It is a blessing.
Is writing fun for you?
Yes. Storytelling is more fun than writing, but both bring pleasure in different ways. As I said earlier, I spend a great deal of time in my head, letting my imagination take me to fantastic places to have conversations with characters I like and admire. I live a lot of my life through them. As for the practice of writing, as I become a better writer, I’m finding that I can take joy in simply creating a well-constructed sentence, and when the stars align and I find that I’ve put together a good chapter or story structure, then that is a tremendous feeling. It’s more fun than anything I can do with my clothes on.
Other than traveling and tennis what else do you do for fun?
Curl up with a good book. I try to read a book a week. I love re-reading stories that are beautifully written, and I’m finding I have little patience with books that aren’t. Fortunately, I’ve found a lot of writers lately that I admire, so I’m kept busy reading them. They, more than anything, inspire me.
What’s next for Alan Chin professionally?
I have two novels currently finished and searching for a publisher. I have a fifth novel in progress, and I’m working on two screenplays. I’ve met with a producer/director in Marin who is interested in making a movie of one of my screenplays, and I’m currently working on modifications for him. Wish me luck, because you never know with these Hollywood types how much is interest and how much is BS. But both my screenplays are great stories with interesting characters, so I’m hopeful.
Before I let you go I have to ask you about Smokie your 13 year old Labrador. I love dogs – I had a Doberman, Jesse, whom I lost about 4 years ago – so I’m dying to find out what happened with Smokie since his illness in the summer of this year.
Smokie never really recovered from his illness last summer. He seemed to get better for a few weeks then slid downhill to the point we had to put him down. Taking him to the vet that last time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’m so sorry you lost your Doberman. That kind of loss stays with you a long time. I still become sad when I see people with their dogs, but I’m hoping for a puppy for my birthday in April.
And thank you, Wave. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my work.
Alan Chin Contact Information
http://tinyurl.com/d54rtd (Examiner.com articles)