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 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?