Welcome to a new feature! I will be doing a series of conversations with authors whose books I am reviewing. I love talking to people. Please let me know what you think of this feature.
Conversation with ALAN CHIN, author of Island Song
Please read the review.
July 16, 2009
RS: Hello, Alan. You’re the first of my conversations. How’s it feel to be in the vanguard? As you know, I just finished your book Island Song. Congratulations on a job well done! It is a fascinating story with interesting people (I always hate to say “characters”).
AC: Thanks Ruth, I’ve very pleased to have the opportunity to chat about myself and my work. I don’t know of any author that doesn’t love to talk about his/her books.
RS: I think it’s in our genes. What was the inspiration for Island Song: the spiritual aspect? Garrett’s loss of his life partner? The characters of Song or Grandfather? Hawaii itself? I can see so many possibilities for inspiration. I’d also like to know if you’re one of these organized authors who outline or whether the story unfolds as you write it.
AC: The flash of inspiration came from a true event in Arizona where a teenaged gay boy was beaten to death by four classmates who happened to be football jocks. They killed him solely because he was gay, and different. The jocks pleaded guilty and the judge let them off with 6 months of community service, saying that he, the judge, was impressed that all four boys were active members of the high school football team and that’s what this country needed more of. So four boys got away with murdering a gay kid simply because they were jocks. I was so outraged that I wanted to write about fighting back against gay bashers. That idea eventually grew into Island Song.
This story percolated in the back of my head for several months, and by the time I began to write, it had completely formed in my head. In fact, the first line I wrote appears in the bar fight scene, which happens almost at the end of the story.
RS: That answer took me totally by surprise!
The sense of spirituality (admirably presented without dogma) is very strong in Island Song, and your knowledge of Buddhism seems very personal. May I ask if you’re a Buddhist and if so, was it something you grew up with? If not, how did you learn enough about it to be so convincing?
AC: I was raised in the Church of Christ, but Christianity always played too many sour notes for my ears. Then in my late twenties, I began to explore Eastern religions, and eventually stumbled upon Zen Buddhism. For me, Zen held the clear, pure notes to the song of life that I’d been searching for. I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for over twenty years now. That sense of spirituality shows up in all my work. It’s impossible for me to suppress that part of myself when I write.
RS: It’s said that authors of fiction always, sometimes unconsciously, put parts of their own lives in their work. Is there anything in Island Song that’s inspired by your own life?
AC: There is so much of my life reflected in those pages. Each of the characters is built on part of my life and personality, but I would say that Garrett most closely reflects the sum of me, with his losing a long-time lover, hiding from an unkind world, reluctant to give up the past, new beginnings with someone remarkable, searching for spiritual depth. Yeah, you could say there is a little of me peeking though the characters.
RS: I read somewhere that Chin is not the surname you were born with, and that there is a rather romantic reason for the use of that name.
AC: Not sure how romantic it is. I met the man of my dreams, Herman Chin, back in 1994 and we began living together in ’95. Then in ’99, when we both retired from corporate life and began to travel the world, we both wanted to share the same family name, as a statement of our love and commitment to each other. Since my surname at the time was Hurlburt, the possibilities were either Alan Chin or Herman Hurlburt. Guess why I lost that argument?
We were the first male/male couple to be married in Marin County, California – the day after it became legal. I’m proud of that, not for being the first, but for being on the front line of the gay marriage movement. It’s clear gay rights are gaining momentum, and I believe now is the time for all gay, lesbian and gay-friendly people to push for equality on every front. Ok, I’ll step off my soapbox now…
RS: My best wishes for you and Herman and your life together. Mazel tov!
Another feeling I got while reading Island Song was that the author was head-over-heels in love with Hawaii. Have you always lived there?
AC: I’m pretty much head-over-heels in love with most every place I’ve ever visited. I love experiencing different cultures. Herman and I travel four to six months every year and have visited over forty countries in the last dozen years. I’ve vacationed in Hawaii several times, but never more than three weeks at any one stay. I adore the laidback Hawaiian culture and the islands are so picturesque.
RS: Do you have other books published or soon-to-be published? Perhaps a sequel to Island Song?
AC: I have a new novel, The Lonely War, being released in September. It’s a historical, men-in-uniform romance. Most of the story takes place within a WWII Japanese prisoner of war camp on Singapore Island. The POW camp was real, and many of the events and situations in my novel are based on true camp life. And although the novel is historical, it makes a clear political statement about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, without being preachy.
I also have another novel, Match Maker, that my Literary Agent is currently looking for a publisher for. It’s the story of a gay tennis coach who teams up with a straight, teenaged tennis prodigy, and together they try to make the big-time on the pro tennis tour.
As for a sequel to Island Song, I’ve not planned one at this time. I do plan, however, to turn Island Song into a screenplay. I should start work on it in October and I hope to have the first draft done by Christmas.
Thank you, Ruth, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my writing. Your readers can find out more about me and my novels at http://alanchin.net, or at my writer’s blog, http://alanchinwriter.blogspot.com.
RS: Thank you, Alan, for your candor and for taking the time to talk to me. Best of luck with Match Maker and The Lonely War. They both sound like exciting stories. May they be bestsellers!