Thursday, July 17, 2014

Manuscript Origins

Last year, I went to the Gay Rom Lit conference in Atlanta. I wasn't there as an author, because I didn't register in time. But I had an airplane ticket I had to use, and one of my publishers, MLR Press, needed some help with a big event they were sponsoring.

So I flew up to Atlanta for a couple of days. I hung out with fans and talked about books, I went to the parties at night and had fun, and I wrote.
The first night, I was standing in the buffet line behind this great-looking older guy who just oozed sexuality. I was stunned into near-silence, which is pretty unusual for me, and we talked for just a moment or two about the crowd.
Later I realized that he was an actual porn star who was there to promote a line of books he was editing. I admit, I got a little obsessed with him, and he started my imagination going.
There was a Starbucks about a ten-minute walk from the hotel, and the next morning I trekked over there with my trusty netbook. I opened a new document and started to write.
Usually the most I can get out of a writing session is about two hours, before my inspiration starts to flag and I begin to remember all the things I have to accomplish that day. But that morning in Atlanta, I had to reason to hurry back to the hotel, and I kept writing and writing.
I felt almost like Jack Kerouac with his endless roll of paper, typing away at On the Road. That’s what obsession feels like, when the words just pour out through your fingertips, with no idea where the story is going. It was a very different experience for me; while I often start hearing a character’s voice in my head, I also begin with an idea of what kind of book I’m writing, and where it’s going.
Will it be a romance? A mystery? A piece of erotica, or a non-fiction article?
With Freddie Venus and Newt Camilleri, I was just eavesdropping on their situation. But once they got together I had no idea what they were going to do or what kind of story they were in.
Between that day and the next, I ended up with about fifty pages. I had no idea where it was going, but it started with a retired porn star living in isolation in southern France, and the overweight, middle-aged fan-boy/writer who gets obsessed with him.

When I got home, I had to go back to manuscripts that had deadlines attached to them, and besides, I had no idea what to do with Freddie and Newt. It was only over the next few months that I realized I’d set these guys up in the territory where my bodyguard heroes, Aidan and Liam, live. So their story, which begins as a romance, was going to have to turn into a case for the Have Body, Will Guard team.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

New computer

So about a week ago, my faithful netbook died. It had given me a blue screen of death at least once before, but recovered, but when I sat down at Starbucks one morning to write, it just wouldn't load Windows. It had lived a long and productive life, though, being used almost every day of the year for writing.

I went looking for a replacement and settled on an 11" HP Pavilion laptop with Windows 8 and Office 2013. I figured that would be small enough to carry around easily, and since we're getting Office 2013 at school I could get a head start on learning to use it.

Big mistake. I'm not sure where my problems came from -- was it the hardware? The software? A combination of both? It was very difficult to right-click on a Word document, which was a big pain in the neck for me, as I right-click all the time, to add words to the dictionary, correct spelling, and update the table of contents, among other things.

I think that was a hardware issue. The touchpad just wasn't responsive.

Second problem was in saving files. I am in the habit of saving all the time -- I hit control-S every few paragraphs, or at least every page. The Pavilion was SO SLOW in saving that the screen would display Microsoft Word Not Responding, and I'd have to wait and wait in order to continue to type. Not good when you're relying on inspiration!

It also seemed like there were many more steps involved to the simplest actions. I couldn't just hit "Save as" and have the dialog box pop up. Had to jump through several hoops for that. Couldn't shut down very quickly, either, though I did figure out a work-around for that.

In the end, I just couldn't tolerate the computer, so I sent it back and got an Acer with Windows 7, and put the copy of Office 2010 I already own on it. It's like a miracle -- everything works again, just like I want it to! Let's hope this computer lasts for as long as the netbook.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New Adult M/M #MFRWauthor

I've been reading about the developing category of New Adult fiction for a while. Most recently, Stephan Lee, writing in the June 20 edition of Entertainment Weekly, defined the genre as “millennial tube-top rippers” and noted “Books in the genre – which thrives in the digital sphere – are also defined by their roller-coaster intensity.”

In the same article, St. Martin’s Griffin publisher Jennifer Enderlin is quoted as saying that New Adult is “young people dealing with more angsty issues than in YA. There’s much more emphasis on toxic relationships, sex and drugs, a lot of passion and emotion.”

When I read that article, I realized that my own work has been moving towards the New Adult category, and I started to wonder if there was already an M/M subdivision. One of the first mentions I found was a this mention of a book by E.K. Blair, Fading. “What’s interesting is that this New Adult book is about the gay best friend and his roommate. I've read all over the internet how this book is “popping the m/m cherry” for many readers.”

My protagonists seem to be getting younger and younger. Kimo Kanapa’aka, the hero of my Mahu Investigations, sprung into existence at thirty-two, when he was dragged out of the closet after a clandestine visit to a gay bar. Kimo had a long romantic history with women behind him, and though he’s a tough cop, he was scared of what being gay might mean for his job, his family, and his whole life.



Liam McCullough, one of the two protagonists in my HaveBody, Will Guard series, came to terms with being gay while a Navy SEAL, when he risked his life to save a teammate, and realized that he had to value his own life, and tell the truth about it. He was in his early thirties then, as well.

In my very first gay romance novel, GayLife.com, I made my hero in his late twenties. I figured he’d have gone through the angst of coming out by then, and be ready for a real relationship. The book was also a coming-of-age story for Brian, who had hopped around from job to job and one casual encounter to the next.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that a collection of college-boy erotica I self-published was doing very well in sales, so I came up with the idea of writing a series of erotic shorts about the members of an all-gay fraternity, Lambda Lambda Lambda, at Florida University (FU) in Miami.

It was a lot of fun to write about these guys who were more open about their sexuality at a much younger age than my usual protagonists. I thought that it reflected the changing times as well. I couldn't imagine Kimo having sex when he was an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, or Liam getting it on with a fellow SEAL in the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But these frat brothers came from a new generation.

The guys became more real to me the more I wrote about them, and in the back of my mind they began demanding their own stories. They wanted more than just some casual sex. They wanted their own HEA – happily ever after – or at least an HFN – happy for now.

So I sketched out a plan for a trilogy of M/M romance novels focused on three of the guys, in the summer after their college graduation. In Love on Site, armed with his construction management degree (and a thing for older guys) Manny Garcia goes to work for handsome, sexy real estate developer Walter Loredo, who’s going through a divorce. As Manny figures out how to navigate his way through the macho world of construction, he falls for Walter big-time.

This book felt very personal to me, because my first career out of business school was in real estate development, though I came at the field through my MBA and my degree in operations management. I still feel a pang of longing for those days whenever I pass a shopping center under construction, and it was great fun to relive those days of early morning meetings and sweaty shirtless workmen.

The next guy I tackled was Larry Leavis, a skinny beanpole whose first experience of sex comes as part of a threesome with new frat brothers. Larry’s a computer geek, a species I know well, because my next career move was to computer game development. My coworkers were young guys with awesome technical skills and a disregard for personal hygiene. I spent hours testing computer games from Fisher-Price Firehouse Rescue to Wheel of Fortune to space invaders and simulated golf.

Larry’s story was tough, because halfway through a minor character took over, and wanted to take the book into a much darker direction. So I shelved it and moved on to the guy whose story I knew least about, Gavin Kaczmarek. I’ve been intrigued for a long time by people with a tangential connection to fame – children and grandchildren of actors, musicians and athletes. What’s it like for those kids?

In Three Lambs, Gavin is introduced as a very handsome guy who begins to explore modeling, and his story, “Head Shots,” ended up in an erotic anthology I edited for Cleis, Model Men. I started to wonder what the guy behind that beautiful fa├žade was like, and made him the grandson of one of the members of a trio of singing sisters from the 1940s who had achieved minor success.

Though I studied piano for three years, I can’t sing a note and don’t know very much about music. I was able to learn what I needed as I shepherded Gavin on the same journey, as he learns to manage the gift of voice he inherited from his Grandma Frances, falling in love along the way.

After I finished that book, I was able to go back to Larry’s book and realize that the guy he was in love with was nothing more than a crush, and that his real love was someone who’d been hanging around on the periphery of the book, patiently waiting his turn.

Now that I have thought my way through all these stories (Gavin’s book, Love on Stage, should come out from Loose Id in late summer or early fall, and Larry’s book, Love on the Web, will follow early in 2015) I realized that I've been writing New Adult romances, though in the M/M genre. I've been describing the books as “recent college grads looking for love and success on South Beach,” and that seems to fit the NA genre.

The books are angsty, as Enderlin says – Manny’s family are conservative Catholic Cuban-Americans; Larry’s folks are lower-middle-class people from a rural area, and South Beach is like another world to them. There are toxic relationships and kinky sex—one of my editor’s comments for Love on Stage was a request to amp up the tension in a kinky scene. And of course, passion and emotion are essential to any romance. I've taken a quote from my favorite Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, as the epigraph for the series. Beatrice says, “Benedick, love on. I will requite thee!” The giddy exuberance of that declaration reflects the way my new adult heroes face love head-on.


What New Adult M/M romance have you been reading – or writing? Please add your titles in the comments, and let’s get a whole list going.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Lilacs of Bucks County



I have lived in Florida nearly thirty years, more than half my life, but there are still a few things I miss from my life up north, in Pennsylvania. And in spring, the one that I think of most is the lilac.
When I was growing up, we had a lilac bush along the back side of the house, and each spring it would blossom with armloads of light purple blossoms just about this time, the last two weeks of May. They wouldn’t just appear in our back yard; they’d show up in bunches at the grocery and the florist. I loved to see them and smell them, and I enjoyed the heart-shaped green leaves as much as the fragrant flowers.

I’m not the only writer to find them appealing. Here are some great lilac quotes:
“Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” ― T.S. Eliot
 “Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room” – Rupert Brooke

“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed
And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night” – Walt Whitman


“Go down to Kew in lilac-time, in lilac-time, in lilac-time;
Go down to Kew in lilac-time (it isn't far from London!) “ – Alfred Noyes


A black cat among roses,
phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon,
the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still.
It is dazed with moonlight,
contented with perfume...”
― Amy Lowell
“The lilac branches are bowed under the weight of the flowers: blooming is hard, and the most important thing is - to bloom”   Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Sadly, unlike me, lilacs like the cold weather, so they won’t grow in Florida’s subtropical climate. So I will have to be content with memories and pictures.  But I do think the next Golden Retriever mystery that takes place in springtime will have to have lilacs!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Chocolate Bars Studded with Walnuts

Readers of my golden retriever mysteries may recall the cafe in the center of Stewart's Crossing, The Chocolate Ear, where Steve often visits. The proprietor, Gail Dukowski is like Steve a returnee to Bucks County after a career as a pastry chef in New York. She prepares delicious sandwiches and desserts for her human customers, and always has some fresh-baked biscuits for Rochester, too.

In the first chapter of Whom Dog Hath Joined, Steve and his girlfriend Lili take Rochester with them to the Harvest Fair at the Friends' Meeting in Stewart's Crossing. Gail is there, selling her walnut-studded chocolate bars as an introduction to new customers.

One of the great things about belonging to the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America has been meeting and becoming friends with lots of other terrific authors. One of those is yacht chef Victoria Allmann, who has already published two volumes of her foodie adventures on the high seas. She was kind enough to develop this recipe for me, for chocolate bars very much like those Gail sells. With only two ingredients, they're easy enough for any home chef to prepare.



Chocolate Bars Studded with Walnuts
I don’t have plastic chocolate molds so I use square tart pans (sold as individual brownie pans) lined with parchment paper as molds but you can use mini muffin tins or any metal mold as well. The chocolate shrinks slightly when setting so they will slip out of the molds easily.
Ingredients:
* 8 ounces semi-sweet good-quality dark chocolate, chopped finely
* 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the walnuts on a cookie sheet in a flat layer and bake for 5-7 minutes to toast them.

3. Remove from oven and cool completely.

4. Melt 6 ounces chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.

5. Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the pan and add 2 ounces of finely chopped chocolate, stirring constantly to melt it.

Victoria's note: This two-step process of melting chocolate in stages is called tempering the chocolate. For reasons that I don't understand, chocolate gets a white chalky bloom if you melt it straight. Tempering chocolate is what gives it that shiny look of finished chocolates instead of the dull chalky look of raw chocolate out of a package. Like a lot of cooking/baking, there is a science behind it that has to do with molecular structure but I can not fathom it or explain it, I just know you have to do it ;-) 

6. Pour a layer of chocolate the molds, then, working quickly, top with 
walnuts.

7. Shake the pan slightly to level chocolate.

8. Put the bars in the refrigerator until firm, five minutes.

9. Remove from molds and store at room temperature for up to one month…or eat instantly.

Learn more about Victoria's career at her website, where you can see her awesome photographs and read about her two books, Sea Fare: A Chef's Journey Across the Ocean and SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with her Captain.

Thank you very much, Victoria!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Special Memorial Day Feature



From time to time, I'll be posting features from the Stewart's Crossing Boat-Gazette, the weekly paper from the fictional Bucks County, PA town that is the setting for my golden retriever mysteries.




This Memorial Day, the Boat-Gazette memorializes a veteran who, while not a son of Stewart's Crossing, had a strong connection to
our town.

Spec. Eric Morgan, a native of Cheltenham, PA was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), based in Fort Bragg, N.C. He died after his transport convoy encountered a roadside bomb outside the Iraqi city of Fallujah. He is survived by his widow, Stewarts Crossing native Tamsen Morgan, and his son, Justin, eight.

Eric and Tamsen met in college and became sweethearts there, despite her Quaker upbringing and his activites in ROTC. "We just clicked," Tamsen said. "My family wasn't happy about me marrying a soldier, but Eric had such a great personality that they loved him as much as I did."

Today, the Boat-Gazette salutes all veterans, as well as their families and friends. Thank you for your service.



Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Map of Steve and Rochester's World

I commissioned this map to show the various locations around Stewart's Crossing. I'm hoping to commission another one just of the town and River Bend.