Monday, December 26, 2011

The Russian Boy

When I was fourteen, I was lucky enough to be sent on a summer study program to France. My first taste of freedom from home came when we landed in Nice, on the French Riviera, in late June of 1972. I was intoxicated by the glamourous beaches, the gorgeous landscape and the ever-present sun. Right then and there I fell in love with Nice.

I went back some years later, for the summer between my junior and senior years in college. I rented a cheap apartment a few blocks from the beach (toilet down the hall, no shower anywhere, French doors that looked out to a busy street) and sat down to write a novel. When I wasn't writing I was wandering the city on my mobilette (moped), going out into the countryside or traveling along the coast road.

I was fascinated by the huge Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice, on the Boulevard du Tsarevich, and to learn that there was a sizable community of Russian nobles in Nice in the years before the Russian Revolution. I kept wanting to write something set there, but it wasn't until I came up with the idea for The Russian Boy that I was able to.

It was great fun to research the period. What did they eat? What kind of underwear did the men wear? How did they celebrate the holidays?

I also had to research current-day Nice, which is a lot different from the city I remember. But as the story took shape-- a painting created in 1912 that is stolen in the current day from a restorer's studio in Paris-- I fell in love with Nice all over again-- as well as with Rowan, Taylor, Dmitri and Alexei, the four point of view characters who tell the story.

To see more about the book, and read the first chapter, go to

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Have Body, Will Guard

The Have Body, Will Guard series am began with a daydream about running away to an exotic location, meeting a handsome guy and having an adventure. In the first book in the series, Three Wrong Turns in the Desert, Aidan Greene is dumped by his boyfriend of ten years, and on a whim he takes a job teaching English as a second language in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

He meets handsome bodyguard Liam McCullough and gets roped into helped him chase a Tuareg tribe through the desert. By the end of the book, they’re in love and Aidan decides to stay with Liam and become a bodyguard himself.

Dancing with the Tide picks up a few months later, after Aidan has attended a bodyguard training course and begun learning the business of personal protection. They are asked to protect a young Arabic pop star who has received death threats after coming out of the closet.
I wrote the first book hoping to reach a mainstream audience, so I drew the curtain on sex. But after signing with Loose Id, I knew I’d have to open those bedroom doors and show how Aidan and Liam connected. For the second book, though, I started with a bang-- literally. This new book is hot by design, and it was great fun to write.

One of the stories in the Surfer Boys anthology I edited was set in Djerba, a resort island off the coast of Tunisia, and I thought that would be a fun place to take Aidan and Liam and their client.
The guys go kite-surfing off the coast in this book as a way to work off some tension. Djerba has featured in Greek mythology and in Homer’s Odyssey, and it’s a gorgeous island of palm trees and resort hotels. Aidan and Liam explore the island while protecting their client, and the villa where they’re staying provides time for sexy encounters as well.

I was inspired by a lot of the photographs I found on line, like this one, of a turreted ruin somewhere in the Tunisian desert.

I love the bright, sun-washed look of these buildings. They remind me about the strong contrast between dark and light in these hot, sunny climates. There’s always going to be some danger in a Liam and Aidan book-- someone’s trying to kill the client, and there’s a mystery man who romances the client and then moves in. The book was a lot of fun to write, and I hope readers will enjoy it too.

In the third book in the series, Teach Me Tonight, they've been hired to protect Maks Bazarov, a spoiled teenager attending an English-language institute in Bizerte, on Tunisia's north coast, and sparks really start to fly (literally!) once they're in place. Someone really wants to kidnap Maks, and will go to great lengths to do so, even trying to set the monastery where the institute is taking place on fire.

Liam faces an opponent who represents his own dark side -- a soldier of fortune who is smart, strong and ruthless. Liam needs Joey’s help -- but will his attraction to his hunky pal damage his relationship with Aidan? Will Aidan turn his back on his burgeoning career as a bodyguard to return to his first love, teaching?
In his past life, teaching in Philadelphia and living with his ex-partner, Aidan had taken courses in massage, gourmet cooking, flower arranging, and a host of other skills, most of which proved useless in Tunis. The massage lessons, however, had been invaluable.

You can find all my Loose Id books here:

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Writer Wore Socks: Notes from Left Coast Crime

Left Coast Crime is a mystery fan convention which moves around the western part of the US every year. This year's was in Santa Fe, New Mexico and it was an excellent event.

The Santa Fe airport

The La Fonda,where the conference was set, is a charming hotel but sometimes you feel like Alice down the rabbit hole trying to find your way to the rooms. I didn't get my reservation in early enough so I stayed at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, around the corner, which was quite lovely.

The La Fonda Hotel, where the convention took place

My panel on Climate & Crime was up first and we had fun.  Vicki Delany began by insisting that there is no severe weather in Canada, but eventually capitulated because she realized Canadians take in stride a lot of bad weather that the rest of us find intimidating. Victoria Heckman and I talked about Hawaii, and Lance Zarimba added some Mexican color (his book, Vacation Therapy is set there).
View from my hotel window
Inn at Loretto

The short story panel was also very interesting-- I really think that having lots of stories available in e-format will energize the form. On Friday I participated in a panel on diversity in the mystery. We had African-American, gay, Native American and First Nations protagonists represented, but I believe the point that we all write about all types of characters was an important one to remember.
Some of the panels were great, others so-so. I enjoyed hearing Craig Johnson tell stories on the Old West - New West panel. And it was interesting to hear St. Martins' editor Keith Kahla and Barbara Peters, owner of Poisoned Pen press & bookstore, with their views on the future of publishing.
The native dancers from a local pueblo were great; the boys looked like refugees from Where the Wild Things Are, and the floor of the ballroom shook with their rhythm.

One of the dancers

Aside from some pollen & oxygen problems (and having to wear socks every day due to the cold) I enjoyed the conference. Hanging out with writers and readers is always a great time!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Dennis Lehane's 10 Questions

Dennis Lehane gave a terrific keynote speech at Sleuthfest on Saturday, in which he listed ten questions to ask about your mystery manuscript.
1. Does your story start on page one? Stories should begin at the first action.
2. Does the main character act soon enough? Stasis early in a novel is death.
3. Does the main character have a recognizable want? A clear want leads to action, which leads to the revelation of character.
4. Does the main character have a recognizable need? A need is theme, a want is plot.
5. Do the actions of the main character seem believable and authentic?
6. Does the protagonist go on a journey which leads to an epiphany? The story is the journey-- the plot is the car you drive on the journey.
7. Do the events in the story have dramatic inevitability?
8. Is something at stake-- for example, a piece of the main character's soul?
9. Have you written the book you want to read? A book of mortal event, with big dire action that leads to big dire consequences?
10. When in doubt, just telling the f---ing story.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Key West Literary Seminar

I wrote this report up for the food website, but never heard back from the editor in charge of the site, so I have given up on them and decided to post here.
Now in its 29th year, the Key West Literary Seminar focuses in 2011 on “The Hungry Muse: An exploration of Food in Literature.” Many participants will be familiar to dedicated foodies, including Ruth Reichl, Judith Jones, Frank Bruni and Molly O’Neill. The seminar has been broken into two halves; the program repeats, in slightly different format, two weekends a row in Key West.
Ruth Reichl began the conference with a talk in which she attempted to explain the reasons behind the explosion in food writing over the past twenty years or so. Her thesis was that as we have become disengaged from the production and preparation of food, we seek that connection through reading about it. Throughout the seminar she was an energetic and enthusiastic participant, with masses of dark curly hair and very skinny legs.
The rain disappeared and the first reception, at the Audubon House, went off as planned, with platters of moist turkey, an elaborate cheese table, and appetizers of grilled grouper wrapped in bacon, shrimp ceviche on toast, and lamb lollipops. The occasional raindrop filtering down through the high treetops was balanced out by liberal wine pourings.
Former poet laureate Billy Collins kicked off the Friday morning session with what was billed as “A Gravy Boatload of Poems” -- his own and others. His first choice was Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry,” which begins with an arresting image of ink running from the corners of the poet’s mouth as he devours poetry.
Other Friday programs included a panel discussion between Jason Epstein, Darra Goldstein, Molly O’Neill and Calvin Trillin on the topic of “Transubstantiation: Madeleines, Anyone?” Sadly, as with many of the panel discussions, panelists hadn’t prepared in advance, made little attempt to stick to the topic, and rambled as they pleased. Did you know, for example, that Molly O’Neill couldn’t wait to get out of her hometown of Columbus, Ohio? I know that now-- since she mentioned it at least four or five times, pretty much during every panel where she spoke. I have to say I know an awful lot about her (I’d never heard of her before) because she pretty much repeated her biography as part of every panel she participated in.
The panelists were usually charming, with the exception of the elderly Mr. Epstein, who mumbled and fumbled and sometimes seemed confused as to where he was. But he was balanced out by the charming Judith Jones, who brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to every panel she participated in. She mentioned that she felt we have bought into the idea that cooking is work, forgetting the pleasure involved in preparing food. She noted that the generation after World War II wanted to be liberated from the kitchen, and that packaged foods facilitated that liberation.
She also told the “true story” behind the scene in the movie Julie and Julia where she cancelled her dinner at Julie’s. Julia Child was horrified at the language Julie used in her blog and asked Jones not to have anything to do with Julie, even though Jones had been planning to make her visit about protecting the publisher’s rights rather than validating Julie’s project.
In cookbooks, Jones looks for works that use words precisely and explain what’s being done. The joy of Julia Child, she said, was that Child taught you techniques which you could then use in preparing your own recipes. She is also interested in books that focus on the pleasure of eating.
The program organizers worked with a number of different Key West restaurants to set up special menus for seminar participants. I ended up at the Banana Café, a French restaurant which served us an awesome seven-course meal, from appetizers of lukewarm spring potato filled with a goat-cheese-crème fraiche mousse topped with ossetra caviar and a marinated cherry tomato filled with a crab remoulade all the way through fish, duck and cheese courses, finishing with a chocolate truffle served on a tiny spoon. Each course was accompanied by French wines, and a representative of the wine distributor came to our table to explain each wine and how it matched the food.
One of Saturday’s highlights was a presentation by Julia Reed entitled “Drinking and Other Southern Pursuits.” She had the audience laughing to stories of after parties at her parents’ home in Mississippi, and the food and drink served then. In a hit-or-miss program, she was a hit, while a twenty-minute reading of a recipe for a stuffed leg of lamb was a definite miss. Molly O’Neill, who followed that speaker, even asked the audience, “Anyone out there awake after that?”
Roy Blount Jr. and Calvin Trillin shared the stage for the concluding event of Saturday night, entitled “What ever happened to chicken a la king?” They spent a couple of minutes wondering about lost foods-- then went on to joke about a dozen topics, some of them actually related to food. But their delivery was worth the price of admission.
The concluding reception was held at the Custom House museum, featuring cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres, but with a focus on desserts including key lime pie, chocolate mousse, bananas foster and bread pudding.
The most provocative panel was one of the last, late on Sunday morning. Jason Epstein, Judith Jones, Molly O’Neill and Ruth Reichl addressed the catchall topic of “Food in America.” Epstein insisted that all you needed to learn how to cook was a cookbook and a good set of Japanese knives, though he did admit that he learned everything he knew about cooking while working in restaurants. Molly O’Neill differed with him, saying that she felt the Internet could deliver an immersive experience in demonstrating cooking techniques that a book couldn’t match.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thinking About Grammar

I’m working on copy edits for MAHU BLOOD, and a couple of things keep coming up that are challenging some of my own ideas.
The first concerns mixing past and present tense. As an English teacher, I try to hammer into my students the need to stay in one tense, usually the past tense, in their writing. I try to do that myself. But my copy editors don’t seem to agree.
I understand their point of view. If something is still true, regardless of the time of the book, they think it should be in present tense. A lot of times that comes up in my definition of Hawaiian words. For example, as the first person narrator, I might write “I knew that ohana meant family.”
The copy editor changes that to “I knew that ohana means family.”
That just sounds wrong—mixing past and present in one sentence. Easy fix; remove the words “I knew that.” New sentence reads “Ohana means family.” But it’s still a present-tense sentence in the middle of a book written primarily in the past tense.
Rather than argue, I usually just go along with the copy editor’s changes. But every time it do, it rings a little bell in the back of my head.
My hero, Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, has an undergraduate degree in English. I gave him that background deliberately, so that his voice would be articulate and sound educated. He can drop in an occasional reference to English literature-- in MAHU BLOOD he sees an older woman surrounded by knitting, and calls her Madame Defarge. His partner, Ray Donne, is a Philly cop who has a college degree, though not in English. He asks Kimo how he knows the woman and Kimo says, “It’s a long story. Called A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.” Ray just shakes his head and says, “English major.”
So Kimo knows his grammar, but I don’t expect him to be pedantic. Will he always use “whom” properly? Will he say, “I spoke to this guy who I was able to get hold of?” Or would he say “Whom I was able to get hold of?”
He’d certainly say “A guy like me,” rather than “A guy like I am.” But where do you draw the line?
This is why English teachers (and writers) go prematurely gray.