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

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.