Monday, November 16, 2015

The oldest building in Florida

Aside from the pueblos of New Mexico, the oldest building in the United States is not, as you might expect, in New England, but in North Miami Beach, Florida. 

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but it’s actually an ancient Spanish monastery that was originally built near Segovia, Spain, and then moved to Florida in the 20th century.

The Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was completed in 1141, but after a social revolution in the 1830s, it was seized, sold, and converted into a stable. William Randolph Hearst bought it in 1925 and had the buildings dismantled, the stones packed in hay in more than 11,000 crates, and then shipped to the United States.

Then the Depression intervened, and Hearst had to sell the crates at auction, and they sat in a Brooklyn warehouse until 1952, when entrepreneurs purchased them. 

According to a 1953 Time magazine article, it was “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history,” took 19 months to complete and cost over $20 million in today’s money.

Eventually a benefactor purchased the property and donated it to the Episcopal Church making it available for church services and weddings.

 I first visited what's often called "The Ancient Spanish Monastery" soon after I moved to neighboring Aventura, Florida in 1988. I loved the idea that there was this fabulous building tucked away between an Italian grocery and a tennis court. And I'm an architecture buff, so I loved walking around the property, seeing the centuries-old stones and absorbing atmosphere.

When I began writing romance novels set in South Florida I looked around for great locations to use. Most of my M/M romances take place on South Beach and utilize the Art Deco architecture there. In 2012, I published Mi Amor, a story of two very different guys who fall in love. Adam Beller is a cute young party planner and night owl, while Javier Marisco is a much more serious real estate entrepreneur.
 The book ends with an HFN -- a happy for now-- as Javier and Adam begin the next steps in their journeys.  When Loose Id asked its authors to consider our published works in light of the new rules regarding same sex marriage, I jumped at the chance.
I knew right away that if Adam and Javier were going to get married, it would happen at the Ancient Spanish Monastery. But do they make it to the altar? You'll have to read “The Sea Between Us” to be sure.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Have a Gay Holiday!

Happy Halloween,
All Hallows Eve and Samhain,

Thank you for dropping by and welcome to the hop! If you aren't familiar with my work, I'd like to give you a quick overview. I write gay mysteries and M/M romances, and I like to say that the same elements-- love and adventure-- are in all the books, just in different proportions.

Kimo Kanapa'aka is the openly gay hero of my Mahu Investigations, published by MLR. He's a homicide detective in Honolulu, and through eight novels and two story collections he has tracked down bad guys, fallen in love, and most recently, he and his partner have fathered twins. You can read more about Kimo and his adventures here.

Aidan Greene ran away from a miserable ex in Philadelphia and landed in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, where he spotted a gorgeous guy showering naked in a courtyard. Liam McCullough, an ex-SEAL who left the military under Don't Ask, Don't Tell was working as a bodyguard when he met Aidan, who he confused with a prospective client. In seven books so far, they've traveled the world, protecting clients and having some steaming hot sex. Learn more about the Have Body, Will Guard series from Loose Id here.

And finally, if you want to see some hot guys fall in love (and have sex, too) then I hope you'll check out my romance novels. I often write about young guys looking for love and career success on South Beach-- and I love driving down there to do the research!

The blog hop has 25 prizes to give away, donated by some talented, generous people who write LGBT characters:

Any book in Tara Lain’s backlist
Duce by Kai Tyler
Cruise Control by Kerry Adrienne
Safety in Numbers by Jessie G (Sizzling Miami Series)
Trouble Comes in Threes by M.A. Church
Discovery by Thianna Durston
Rescuing Kyle by Eva Lefoy
Gay for Pay by TM Smith (All Cocks Series)
Spooky Tales One by Stephen del Mar (Short story collection)
The entire Moonlit Wolves Series by Bronwyn Heeley (7 books)
Coming Back Home by April Kelley (Pickleville Series)
Any ebook in Draven St. James’s backlist
The Russian Boy by Neil Plakcy
Any book in Annabeth Albert’s backlist
Shades of Sepia by Anne Barwell
Any book in Amanda Young’s backlist
Any book in Lynley Wayne’s backlist
Electric Candle or Jewel Cave by Elizabeth Noble
Soul Sick by Kendall McKenna
When All Else Fails by J.M. Dabney (Sappho's Kiss Series)
More Than What They See by J.M. Dabney (Sappho’s Kiss Series)
On the Run by Michael Mandrake
Ivan vs Ivan by Princess S.O. (Teddy Bear Collection)
Blue by DP Denman (Blue Series - 2 copies)
And check out Bookworm Bridgette’s book blog.

The grand prize is a $50 Amazon gift card

Enter today and spread the word!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The hacking cycle

At the FBI InfraGard seminar today in Dania Beach, I learned a lot about the current state of hacking. Of course, I’ve learned a lot over the years as I write about Steve Levitan, a (somewhat) reformed hacker who solves crimes with the help of his golden retriever, Rochester.  But it’s always great to have things presented in a simple, digestible way.

One of the presentations covered the hacking cycle, which I’ve recreated here. (Note: all errors are my own, not those of the presenters!) Interesting note is the evolving nature of threat attackers – the bad guys innovate faster than the good guys.

The Hacking Cycle


The first step. The hackers are interested in a particular company or industry, but need to figure out who to target and how. They use corporate websites to get employee names—sometimes high-level employees like the CEO or CFO, but also they might go after someone like an executive’s admin, because that person often has the same access to information that the boss has.
They search through social media to discovering personal information about the targeted employee. Since email is the biggest way that hackers get access to an organization’s system, their goal is to construct an email that is tailored enough to the individual that it seems reputable and makes him or her willing to click on a link—which then leads to the next step.


The act of actually getting the hacker’s software into the organization’s system, allowing these outside agents access to your server and data.


Once the hacker gains access to the organization’s system, he may take some time to snoop around at what’s in the environment and how he can use it. Perhaps the data is contained in a particular brand of software or type of database. The hackers can put up a bid for a specialist in that on the dark web. More and more, hackers are specializing in specific areas, and then collaborating on projects.


Actually getting into the appropriate database or  finding the data within the system


Removing the data or causing harm to the system


Selling the data that has been stolen or collecting payment for the hack.

I learned a lot more at the seminar which I'll be posting in the future. For now here's a link to Infragard:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Home vs. Hotel

In 1981 I lived in an SRO hotel on Upper Broadway, at a time when that neighborhood, sandwiched between the Upper West Side and Columbia, had not yet been gentrified. A Latin bar called La Ronda flashed its neon all night, and periodically fights spilled out onto the sidewalk.
Visitors had to check in with the grizzled, half-soused receptionist before being allowed upstairs to my small studio. The single window looked out onto an air shaft so the room never got natural light. Cockroaches roamed rampant in the tiny kitchen, the size of a closet, with a tiny refrigerator and a two-burner stove.
I worked just up Broadway in the alumni office for Columbia Business School, and one of my responsibilities was traveling out regularly to visit alumni clubs and bring them news of the campus.

Back then Hilton was one of the swankiest hotel chains, and they were kind enough to offer discounts to academic personnel. So I stayed in those hotels when I went to Boston, Washington, DC, Chicago – even the Merv Griffin Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles when I flew west to meet with our LA group.
The hotel rooms were always nicer than home. It wasn’t just the service—someone to clean the bathroom, swap the towels and make the bed. The towels were bigger and plusher, and there were always thick white bathrobes. The bedding was crisp and white, the pillows fluffy. There was free cable TV, even HBO and MTV, back when they were big novelties.
Nowadays, though, the equation is reversed, and home is nicer than the hotels where I stay. It’s first a matter of economics. Now, for the most part, I travel on my own dime, and even when I’m go to a college-sponsored event my expenses are limited.
Hilton isn’t what it once was. Now there are W's and Mandarin Orientals and all manner of boutique hotels that are well outside my price range. So I end up at the Best Western, the Ramada, sometimes a Sheraton.
These hotels aren’t trying for the epitome of luxury—they’re aiming for a middle niche. But at the same time, my own home life has improved. My bedroom has the perfect lights for reading, with a bookcase right beside the bed. I have more disposable income for things like linen pillowcases and huge, fluffy Turkish towels -- much better than the rough, skimpy hotel towels that barely wrap around my midsection.
My queen-sized bed has a down comforter and big down-filled pillows, and has spoiled me for hard mattresses, foam pillows and those thin polyester bedspreads.
The first time I used a hotel shower with a massaging head, I felt like visiting royalty. Now those heads are twenty years old, and I have to bend over in a slippery tub to wash my hair. At home, I have a  brand new marble-tiled shower with a big, square rain shower head positioned just right for my height, as well as a hand-held three speed attachment.
And at my home as well, I have a partner and two loving dogs. No hotel chain is going to duplicate that.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Children of Noah

In eight books, police detective Kimo Kanapa’aka has investigated homicides and other crimes that take place in Honolulu’s District 1, which covers the downtown area from Liliha Street to Punahou Street and from Round Top Drive to Ala Moana Beach, including the Aloha Tower. His cases have taken him around the island, from the Windward to the Leeward Coast and up through the center of the island to the North Shore.

Now, Kimo and his detective partner Ray Donne have accepted an assignment to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, where personnel from a variety of Federal and local agencies are loaned to the Bureau to work on complex cases.

Kimo and Ray must negotiate a new bureaucracy and a tricky case, which begins with threatening letters sent to a U.S. Senator and his family. Things heat up as they discover connections to other harassment of mixed-race couples and families, even children. Since his own kids are a mix of many cultures, from Hawaiian to haole to Japanese to Korean, Kimo feels especially motivated to solve this case.

After so many cases in this small section of the island, though, I wanted to give Kimo the chance to explore crimes without a downtown connection, perhaps bigger cases than a homicide detective might encounter. At first, I thought of transferring him to the state police – only to discover that there is no real counterpart to Hawaii Five-O.Then I participated in the FBI Citizen’s Academy, an eight-week course introducing Bureau operations to civilians, and learned about the Joint Terrorism Task Force – JTTF. What a great opportunity for Kimo!

I was sad to leave behind some familiar faces from the HPD, including his boss Lieutenant Sampson, and one of my favorite supporting characters, Juanita Lum, the secretary in the Vice department. But I couldn’t let Kimo go into this new territory alone—his detective partner, Ray Donne, accompanies him. 

Ray was a big part of Kimo’s decision to accept the new assignment. Ray and his wife Julie have a baby son, and Ray’s hoping to ride a desk in the Bureau’s office in Kapolei, staying out of harm’s way. With the birth of twins fathered by Kimo and his partner, fire investigator Mike Riccardi, Kimo feels the same way.  He needs to be around to pass on the lessons he’s learned from his own father to these two new keikis, fraternal twins Addie and Owen.

Children of Noah has a complicated history. I actually wrote a different book, Ghost Ship, which begins with a motor-sailboat washing ashore on the Leeward Coast, with four dead bodies on board as well as radioactive material. It was a big, complicated plot, and in the end I decided it was really two books. So I split it in half, added a lot of stuff, and came up with this book. Now I have the first half of Ghost Ship that needs rewriting, and a whole new second half with new, stronger villains.
It’s a big task, but I have faith that Kimo will lead me down the right path.

Children of Noah is available as an ebook from MLR right now; other vendors and the print edition coming soon. 

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, 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