Tuesday, July 07, 2015

My Summer Book

I’ve been seeing lots of lists of summer reads lately, and that reminded me of Goodbye, Columbus, a book I associate with summer, because I read it during summer school.

My parents were very opposed to my sitting around all summer long doing nothing. Since we had a big yard and a twenty-acre lake behind our house, they weren’t interested in sending me to summer camp. So instead I went to various summer programs offered by our school district. 

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school that meant taking the bus to Pennsbury High for a summer course in literature. 

I remember meeting in Room 222 – this was during the years when that TV show, starring Michael Constantine and Karen Valentine – was on TV. I can’t recall what else we read, but the book that stuck with me is Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus.

I was a voracious reader, but this was one of the first books I read that was about somebody like me – Jewish, teenaged, growing up in the suburbs.  It was his first book, published when he was 26, and included the title novella and five stories.
Wikipedia states that “Each story deals with the concerns of second and third-generation assimilated American Jews as they leave the ethnic ghettos of their parents and grandparents and go on to college, to white-collar professions, and to life in the suburbs.” 

Well, that was me right there – a second-generation American Jew. My father even grew up in the same “ethnic ghetto” as Roth himself – the Weequahic Park neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey.

I went on to read more Roth, particularly Portnoy’s Complaint, which informed my senior thesis, a book about Jewish assimilation, among other things. I also got to take a course at the University of Pennsylvania with Roth himself. 

It wasn’t a creative writing course, sadly; instead, we read a bunch of novels, including several by Colette, and then wrote essays about them, which he critiqued heavily. I don’t think we ever discussed his work in class – he just assumed, I guess, that if we’d signed up for a course with him we knew what he’d written.

He was also kind of a prick, a lot like the characters he wrote about, so maybe he just didn’t care what we thought.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I’ve had many careers, from university administrator to construction manager to college professor. But most often for fiction I mine from the twelve years I spent in software development.

In the 1980s, I was working as a project manager for shopping center developers – a background that I used in the first book in the “Love on” series, Love on Site. But when the opportunities for new construction dried up late in that decade, I was left adrift. I’d been working as a consultant so I wasn’t eligible for unemployment compensation.  To pay the bills, I went back to a skill I’d learned the summer after sixth grade – typing.

I registered with a two temp agencies in my neighborhood and went on a number of different assignments. I was a speed demon at the keyboard, and knew how to use word processing and spreadsheet software.

My last job as a temp was also the start of a new career. One Thursday morning I showed up at the office of a software company that needed some data entry done. What began as a two-day assignment turned into nine years and an eventual role as a computer game producer.  

I typed in the questions and answers for games such as Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud. Then I tested the games on computers and game consoles, wrote the instruction manuals and the box copy, and presented the finished games to the licensors for their approval.

I first used this background in GayLife.com, about a gay-centric website on South Beach. 

It was lots of fun to come back to it to build a world for Larry in Love on the Web. He's an app developer for a startup on South Beach and I learned a lot about app development while writing it-- though I sure couldn't build my own!

 In between the first draft of this book and its eventual publication, I also wrote a short story for the M/M romance group on Goodreads, called “Creeling the Bridegroom.” Some of the Love on the Web characters appear there.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Going Home

Though I grew up in Bucks County, where the golden retriever mysteries are set, I hadn’t been back since I started writing the books. I had the chance this spring to travel to Pennsylvania and I took advantage of that trip to spend a couple of days in New Hope, drive around and take a lot of pictures.
There are a couple of regular locations that show up in the mysteries, often based on real places in my hometown of Yardley. One of those is the Continental Tavern.
It’s at the corner of Main and Ferry streets, by the only traffic light in town. I’ve reconfigured it a bit as The Drunken Hessian, a reference to the tipsy soldiers Washington took advantage of on December 26, 1776. I’d forgotten that there are two stories on top of the bar—I wonder what I can use them for in the future?
Another recurring location is Gail Dukowski’s café on Main Street, the Chocolate Ear. Gail is actually the first of the Stewart’s Crossing characters to have come to me, in a (so-far) failed novel called More Than Chocolate, which tells the story of how she returned to Bucks County after a successful career as a pastry chef in Manhattan.

This isn’t the building I’d initially used as a model for the café, but it’s much more like the one that actually appears in the books. I changed the name but Gail’s still there, along with the supporting characters from her book who pop up now and then in the golden retriever mysteries. Perhaps someday I’ll get around to revising that early book.
In the books, the green awning is the same, as well as the multi-paned glass windows, but Gail has also put some white wrought-iron café tables and chairs outside. Rochester needs to be able to go to the café, so he can meet with characters and sniff out clues, but he can’t go inside. Another reason why so many of the books take place in spring, summer and fall!
Finally, I was distressed to discover that one of my favorite businesses, which I’ve referred to in several books, had changed hands and changed names. When I was growing up we often stopped at Gerenser’s Ice Cream on Main Street in New Hope, where they were the first place I knew to come up with exotic flavors of ice cream. One of my favorites was African Violet, which I probably liked just because it was purple.
At least the new store has a name that fits in with the punny theme of my books!

I hope you enjoy your summer! If you haven’t read all six books in the series, they’re fun, light reads. I hope to have Honest to Dog, number 7, ready some time this fall. Already finished a first draft, but there's still a lot to do to make it a great book.
The Continental Tavern

Main Street Pizza Parlor

A great house on Main Street in Yardley

This was once a bank, now a brewpub

A typical house in Yardley

The home of my childhood piano teacher-- model for Edith's house

Formerly Gerenser's

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Minor Character Who Wanted His Own Book

I’ve been interested in police work for years, since I first began reading mysteries. I had to learn an awful lot about police procedures, especially as they are handled in Honolulu, when I began writing the Mahu Investigations.

Back in 2008, I saw an announcement in the Miami Herald that the FBI was accepting applications for its Citizens Academy, a program to teach interested area residents about the Bureau and its operations. I immediately put in my application, but it took until the fall of 2010 to be offered a spot in the twelve-week, one night a week program.

I’ve already blogged about what I learned there, in six installments, starting with the first night.

I thought about Angus Green off and on for a while.  While I was writing my YA novel, Soul Kiss, I needed my teens, Melissa and Daniel, to meet up with the FBI—and who better to babysit them than Angus Green? Here’s his first appearance in that book, when he’s asked to look after the kids for a while.

Agent Green led us into a meeting room filled with long tables and metal chairs. There was a big American flag against one wall, and a stack of expensive looking video equipment on the side.
“You can call me Angus. Can I get you anything? Water? Soda?”
“Freedom,” Daniel grumbled.
“I wish I had my freedom too. Didn’t have to work on Sunday babysitting a couple of kids. But I’m a grown up and I know I have to do some things I don’t want to. Maybe you’ll grow up while you’re here.”
Angus gradually starts to bond with Daniel and Melissa, and he opens up to them a bit over pizza.

Angus sat with Daniel and me in the big conference room. “I feel bad that we’re making you guys work on a Sunday,” I said to Angus.
“Doesn’t matter to me. I’ve got no life anyway.”
“You don’t have a girlfriend or a wife?” Daniel asked.
“I’m gay,” Angus said. “And right now I don’t have a boyfriend or a husband.”
“That’s why you blushed when Roly asked you about being kissed,” I said.
“I did? That’s the problem with being a redhead. Everything I feel shows up on my face.” He looked at me. “You read people pretty well. You always been able to, or is that part of the whole genius thing?”
I shrugged. “Never noticed it before.”
“You guys really believe that some part of Daniel’s brain seeped into Melissa when you were kissing?”
Daniel and I looked at each other. “You have a better explanation?”
“Hey, I took as little science as possible when I was in school. But I guess there are a lot of weird things going on that science hasn’t come up with an explanation for yet.”
Bit by bit, scene by scene, I got to know Angus better, and sometimes I was surprised by the things he said.
“He’s a good kid,” Angus said. “I hope everything works out for him.”
“I did something I should tell him about, but I’m not sure how,” I said.
Angus turned to me. “Really? What’s that?”
“I applied to college for him.”
He looked confused. “How did you do that?”
I explained how I had hacked into his school account, written his essays, and used my mother’s credit card. “I know, it was all wrong. But he wasn’t even going to apply. And you see how smart he is.”
“You can’t run Daniel’s life for him, Melissa.” He leaned back against the display. “That’s why I broke up with the last guy I dated. He didn’t like me being an agent. He wanted me to go back to accounting, get a real job. He said I was just playing around, that I needed to grow up.”
“How rude! You’re a really good agent.”
“You don’t know that,” he said, smiling. “But I like my job, and I didn’t appreciate anybody trying to tell me what to do.”
This wasn't Angus's last appearance... he continued to drop in on books. More about this in my next post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Take This Man!

Take This Man, out today from Cleis Press, celebrates the second anniversary of the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act. Since that event has resulted in many, many same-sex marriages around the country, I asked
several of my contributors to share vows they thought might be appropriate for such ceremonies.

From Rob Rosen and Ken Blackwell’s marriage ceremony: 

Rob and Ken

You have joined yourselves in solemn matrimony. May you strive all your lives to meet this commitment with the same love and devotion that you now possess. For love is truly the greatest gift we are given to share; love’s compassion is the glory of life. Delight in each other’s company and never take the other for granted, for you are destined to enjoy the blending of your two lives.

Anne Dove sends vows from the marriage of her friends Andrew and Leo:

"In the name of the spirit of God that resides within us all, by the life that courses within my blood and the love that resides within my heart, I take thee to my hand, my heart, and my spirit, to be my chosen one. I shall keep myself for thee. I shall not seek to change thee. I shall respect thee, thy beliefs, thy house, thy people, and thy ways as I respect myself."

Krista Merle suggests two:

I vow that while I may not always like you, I'll always love you.
I promise to remind you to breathe.

Justin Josh vows:
"I vow to itch you in the places you can't reach."

Oleander Plume loves the idea of a Poe-inspired wedding ceremony including these vows, excerpted from the Offbeat Bride website:


With this ribbon I'll be binding hearts that will be intertwining
This honored tradition dated back from the Celtic days of yore
The fasting of their hands together symbolizes their forever
So united I will tether as was done in ancient lore
Clasping hands are tied together as was done in ancient lore
To symbolize forever more.

What's your idea of a great vow?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Best Gay Romance 2015

If you’re a fan of gay romance stories, then Felice Picano’s new anthology for Cleis, Best Gay Romance2015, is well worth the price of admission. Sure, there are a bunch of very short hook-up pieces and a few “WTF” moments, but the best stories in the book are deeply romantic and beautifully written.

“Discodemius,” by Jerry Wheeler, is a real hoot. A present-day twink casts a spell that conjures up a demon. But instead of the Azmodeus, whom he expects, he gets “the unholy terror from the seventies, Discodemius,” wearing a hot pink leisure suit and a “mass of medallions on gold chains that clacked against his scaly chest.”

Be careful what you wish for, right? When Kevin wishes to be “entertained,” he has no idea what he’s getting into. I read this one eagerly, wondering how a time-travel story could have a happy ending, and I was delighted by the twist at the end.

“The Great Masturbator” by Daniel Jaffe is another story that kept me puzzled, about a man who has an out-of-body experience at a circus. It’s a very clever twist on the idea of a romance, as well as full of great little details and very evocative writing.

Michael Thomas Ford
I was also delighted to see one of my favorite romance authors, Michael Thomas Ford, represented in the anthology, and “Reader, I Married Him” did not disappoint. When you get to the end of the story, then go back and look at the story’s title, and you’ll understand how a master works.

As an English major myself, I loved the romantic allusion here. Go Charlotte Bronte!

One of the sexiest and most romantic stories is by two women, Erin MacRae and Racheline Maltese, the story of a date that starts out to be a huge screw-up, as Pete tries to remove his wedding ring (his husband has died three years before) in preparation for a big date with Isaac. Olive oil, lube, and Windex make for a sweetly erotic encounter that has the reader rooting for both men.

All in all, this is a can't miss book for fans of the M/M romance genre. And of course, there's another can't miss coming out June 9 from Cleis -- my own Take This Man: Gay Romance Stories

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love is Love

Show and Tell

Welcome to the "Love is Love" blog hop. Below my post, you'll find 
an entry link where you can win a Kindle and 42 ebooks! Also 
below you'll find links to the blogs of all the other participants, 
and you can visit each one to enter the contest again.

Remember those childhood days when you’d bring something cool
in to school for “show and tell?” As I got older and began to study
 writing in depth, the phrase shifted to “show, don’t tell.” Instead
 of writing, “Joe was happy,” you should write something that
 showed Joe’s happiness, such as “Joe grinned from ear to ear.”

Oh wait, that’s a cliché. Supposed to avoid those. How about 
“Joe grinned broadly.”

Nope, adverbs are weak. “Joe grinned, showing the perfect teeth 
his parents had paid so much for.”

That’s better, in that it gives some extra piece of information about 
Joe. But it makes him sound pretty young, doesn’t it? Suppose Joe 
is actually in his forties. “Joe grinned, turning his head a bit to the 
side in a way that made his weathered face look boyish and charming.”

Okay, enough with Joe. What does all this have to do with Valentine’s 
Day? Well, I think that it’s important to both “show” and “tell” when it 
comes to the person you love.

My partner and I say “love you” at least six or seven times a day. 
When one of us leaves the house, when we end phone calls, when 
we say good night. Even though it’s become such a habit that 
it doesn't have the meaning of a full-on face-to-face “I love you,” 
we both think it’s important to reinforce. It’s a tough world out there 
and anything can happen—and if at all possible I want my last words 
to him to be “love you.”

But as the cliché goes, actions speak louder than words. I’m the 
“Mr. Outside” in our relationship now that my partner has become 
disabled. I’ll buy food he likes at the grocery, make sure that we 
have all the over-the-counter medications and household items 
we need, like the brand of soap he prefers. I’ll go out late at night 
on a fast-food run for him. When he’s not up to going up and 
down stairs, I’ll fetch his pills or find his phone or wallet for him.

He looks after me, too, trouble-shooting computer problems, 
bringing in the morning newspaper on his way back in with 
the dogs, forwarding me articles about health or writing, 
reassuring me when I've lost an award or my book sales are down.

Of course, our relationship isn't perfect. I often say there’s a 
lot of free-floating testosterone in our house. We've been known 
to argue, yell, slam doors. But fortunately, so far we always 
come back to those positive words and gestures.

To tie this back to writing, I try and do the same thing in my 
M/M romances. Kimo and Mike in the Mahu Investigations are 
both alpha male types, so there’s lots of conflict between them, 
but there is lots of romance as well, and the sense that they've 
conquered a lot of challenges to be together.

In the Have Body, Will Guard series, Liam is the alpha male and 
Aidan the beta. Liam is the muscular former US SEAL, while Aidan, 
a teacher of English as a second language, is a nurturer with a 
wide range of domestic skills that often come in handy in their 
work. They, too, use a lot of tender names for each other like 
sweetheart and baby.

I’ve tried to do the same thing in my stand-alone romances 
and the “Love On” series about young guys finding romance 
and careers on South Beach. I guess that childhood of “show 
and tell” has worked out well. 

Here are the Ebooks you can win:

Shiloh Sadler              Private Pleasure
Aidee Ladnier
The Break-in
Amanda Young
Winner chooses from author's available titles
Bronwyn Heeley
Winner chooses from author's available titles
C. J. Anthony
Charlie Cochrane
Something from my back list - winner's choice.
David Connor
Tidings of Comfort and Joey Down Under
DP Denman
Winner chooses from author's available titles
Elin Gregory
Alike As Two Bees
Ethan Stone
Winner chooses from author's available titles
Eva Lefoy
Love is a Mess anthology
H.B. Pattskyn
Hanging by the Moment
J.M. Dabney
When All Else Fails
Jessie G
The Protector
Julie Lynn Hayes
When Will I See You Again
Lisabet Sarai
Necessary Madness
Lynley Wayne
Winner chooses from author's available titles
M.A. Church
The Harvest series (book #1 and book #2)
Morticia knight
All Fired Up (Sin City Uniforms 1)
N.J. Nielsen
Winner chooses from author's available titles
Sibley Jackson
Private Performance
Sue Brown
The Next Call
Tali Spencer
Dangerous Beauty
Tara Lain
Canning the Center
Thianna Durston
The Blake/Dusty Chronicles: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Alexa Milne
Rainbow Connection (due out 13th Feb) or Sporting Chance.
Anne Barwell
Winner chooses from author's available titles
April Kelley
Whispers of Home
Brandon Shire
The Love of Wicked Men - Episode One
Catherine Lievens
Cecil Wilde
Defying Convention
Christopher Koehler
Draven St. James
Scent of a Wolf
Elizabeth Noble
Winner chooses from author's available titles
Hayley B James
Undercover Addiction
Jennifer Wright
All 3 Finding Home Series books - Pavarus, Morvea, & Airos
Karen Stivali
Moment of Impact
Kendall McKenna
1) Strength of the Pack 2)Waves Break My Fall
L M Somerton
Rasputin's Kiss
Lily G Blunt
Paint the Sky
Megan Linden
Running Off the Edge
Stephen del Mar
Dark Love
TM Smith
Tracey Michael
Pretty Please

Hop sites: