Inspiration Post #12: Praesidium

My first novel was Stasis. All of the action in that book–and much of the action in the rest of the trilogy–takes place in the city-state of Praesidium.

I love maps in books and couldn’t resist including maps in the trilogy. Now, if you examine this map closely, you might notice that even though Praesidium is fictional, the geography might look a little… familiar. Especially if you’ve ever looked at a map of northern California.

In fact, Praesidium is located pretty much where we have San Francisco–a city which, uncoincidentally, contains The Presidio. The Presidio was once a Spanish fort and is now a state park. You’ve probably seen parts of it in a zillion movies because the Golden Gate Bridge is anchored at its tip–exactly where Ennek lives, in the Keep.

I’ve taken some creative license with geography in the trilogy, but not too much. I imagined what the place might have been like if the Roman Empire had expanded instead of collapsing, and if the first Europeans to colonize the region had been Romans. Oh, and if there were wizards and mermaids and things. Time-wise, the books take place more or less in the latter days of the Gold Rush.

It’s especially fitting that I took the cover photos for Flux and Equipoise in San Francisco.

That seagull was sitting right outside the Ferry Building on a beautifully foggy day.

And that rope is at the San Francisco Maritime National Park. I took about 150 rope pictures that day. So if you ever need a rope photo, you know who to ask.

The photo on the back cover of Equipoise is also from the park. It’s one of the masts of the Balclutha.

Incidentally, all three books in the trilogy are available in print and e-versions at Amazon, and I donate every penny of my royalties from the trilogy to Doctors Without Borders.

Next week: Urchin Cove

Please welcome Lane Hayes!

Better Than Good by Lane Hayes
My new book (and yes… first ever) Better Than Good was released July 8th.  It is of course a love story because truthfully, that’s my favorite kind.  I will read almost any type of genre, but the ones I end up enjoying the most have at the very least a side note love story.  I gave up feeling guilty that I wasn’t reading War and Peace equivalents long ago.  Been there, done that. I’ve read my fair share of classics and then some.  Now I happily read my M/M romance novels when I’m not busy trying to pen them myself.
I recently had a conversation with another author about writing a bisexual character like Matt.  I’ve noticed many readers and reviewers have labeled Better Than Good as a ‘Gay for You’ novel, but it actually is not one at all. It is a story of self-discovery and ultimately acceptance.  Matt is a simple guy who is checking off goals on his quest to build his career as a lawyer.  He takes for granted that someday he’ll get married, have kids and lead a life much like his parents in suburbia.  Until he meets Aaron. 
Aaron is a bolt out of the blue.  Totally and completely unexpected.  Recently I saw a comment about how often Matt refers to Aaron as beautiful.  In a sense, that first impression isn’t just about how Aaron looks and moves.  It’s about what he represents, which is a side of Matt he thought he could control.   His bisexuality.  Aaron turns Matt’s world upside down.  He is fascinated by Aaron’s joie de vie and his liberated sense of self.  And yes, he is strongly sexually attracted to him.  Matt wants Aaron, but will have to come to terms with how he views himself and the labels he identifies with before he has a chance to win Aaron’s heart.
I love character driven stories.  I have found that people can be as simple in their complexity (Aaron) as they are complex in their simplicity (Matt).  Maybe that is the definition of opposites attracting… or maybe just the components of a better than good love story.  Pun intended. 
Thank you Kim for having me on your blog today!  I appreciate the welcome!

Better Than Good
By Lane Hayes
Matt Sullivan understands labels: law student, athlete, heterosexual. He has goals: graduate and begin his career in law. One fateful night, Matt tags along with his gay roommate to a dance club and everything changes. Matt finds himself attracted to the most beautiful man he’s ever seen. All labels go flying out the window.
 Aaron Mendez doesn’t believe in labels, and he’s leery of straight curious men.  He makes it clear that he’ll hide his fabulous light for no one. While Aaron can’t deny the attraction between him and Matt, he is reluctant to start anything with someone who is still dealing with what this new label means—especially when that someone has a girlfriend.
Excerpt from Better Than Good by Lane Hayes
By the time I took him back to his place, it was three a.m.  The usually busy streets were virtually empty.  A fine layer of fog from the river painted the low lying shrubs and sidewalks in front of his building.   It looked a little mystic and magical as though the early morning hour still held promise.  I pulled close to the curb, set the car in park and turned toward my companion.  I didn’t want to say goodbye, yet I didn’t know where this thing between us could go.  I felt that familiar wave of frustration. 
“Can I walk you up?  I mean it.  I just want to be sure you’re safe.”  It sounded like a lame request, but Aaron seemed pleasantly surprised.
“You are a gentleman, aren’t you?”  His eyes twinkled.   “I won’t say no and I’ll try to keep my hands to myself.  There’s a parking spot up there.  Take it so you don’t get a ticket.” 
I parked the car as instructed and met Aaron at the curb.  His smile lit his entire face.  God, he was beautiful.    He took my arm when I reached his side.  I didn’t protest, though the gesture seemed overly familiar.  It just felt amazing to have this beautiful creature at my side looking at me like I was some kind of hero for offering to walk him to his door.
There was a bright lantern light on above the old glass and iron front door.  Aaron couldn’t get the latch to catch, so I took the key from him and gave it a try. 
“It sticks sometimes.”  He muttered under his breath.
It opened easily for me.  I was beginning to think my levels of chivalry were being tested.  The thought made me grin when I should have been annoyed.
“You’re my hero!” he whispered loudly. 
“Knock it off.  Where is your place?”
“Uh oh, Matty’s getting mad.  Watch out kids.”  Aaron pointed to the elevator off to the right.   The corridor was not as well lit as the front alcove had been.  I was actually glad that I was making sure he was safe.  I was a little nervous myself.  Which must have shown on my face, because Aaron laughed out right as the elevator doors opened.
“Relax, sweetie.  This isn’t the Bates Motel.  It’s just an old building.  Supposedly historic, but really it just means the lighting is poor and the water pressure is worse.  My apartment is cute though.  Come see.  You’re safe.” 
I rolled my eyes this time, but gamely followed him.
His apartment was on the fifth floor.  He led me down another long hallway and stopped in front of #5E. 
“Home sweet home.” He said with a flourish as he opened his door.  “Come make sure there are no boogie men and then I promise to let you go, Matty.”
Aaron turned on a light and breezed through his small entry into a larger living room.  As I followed him I took in my surroundings.  The apartment was small with an open floor plan.
I could see into his bedroom from the living area and although it was dark, I could see that the bed was neatly made.  Aaron’s entire apartment was immaculate.  And the juxtaposition of his modern tastes and the apartment’s older features, like the high ceilings and a floor heater, made for a homey and comfortable space.  It was nice, and it suited Aaron perfectly.
Aaron threw his keys in the egg shaped bright orange bowl on his small kitchen table and turned around with his arms outstretched.
“Well, it’s tiny but it’s all mine.  As long as I pay the rent, that is.”
“It’s really nice.  Suits you.”  I felt a little awkward as I stuffed my hands back in the leather jacket Aaron had returned to me earlier.
            “Thanks for walking me up.  That was very gentlemanly of you.  Is that a word?  Whatever, it was sweet.”  His smile was a little shy and his bangs had fallen back into his eyes.  This time I couldn’t help myself.  I reached out to move his hair away from his eyes.  He looked up at me in surprise and my breath caught.  We stared at one another for a second more before our mouths met.
Lane Hayes Bio:
Lane Hayes is a designer by trade, but is first and foremost a lover of the written word.  An avid reader from an early age, Lane has always been drawn to romance novels.  She truly believes there is nothing more inspiring than a well-told love story.  Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. She loves to travel and wishes she could do it more often.  Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband, three teenage kids and Rex, the coolest yellow lab ever.

Purchase Links:
Dreamspinner Press:
Barnes & Noble:

Inspiration Post #11: Testicle Festival

Today I’m going to talk about an event that inspired me, even though I’ve never actually attended.

In my short story “Tyler Wang Has a Ball” poor urban Tyler gets roped into attending a testicle festival. I am delighted to say such events actually exist. I was inspired by the one that takes place every year in Oakdale, California, which also claims to be the Cowboy Capital.

The TF has been happening for over 30 years. There really are a lot of cattle ranches in the area, and the festival serves up the springtime byproduct of turning male calves into steers. Yep. Like Tyler, I’m not exactly sure whether a vegetarian should partake. After all, the cattle aren’t killed, right?

It’s a popular event despite the hefty ticket cost. I encourage you to visit their website ( wherein you can watch a video and listen to a song, and also find a picture of the 2011 slogan contest winner (“30 years and still hangin’!”).

Incidentally, in the story the event takes place in a ballroom. Oakdale’s festival does not. But the neighboring town of Turlock does have a ballroom, and well, what better place to hold a testicle festival?

Have any of you ever eaten a rocky mountain oyster? What are they like? And what do you think of the vegetarian question?

Next week: Praesidium

Please welcome Andrew Q. Gordon!

Kim has been doing her weekly piece on inspiration and in keeping with her theme so I decided to take a crack at what inspired/inspires my writing. Since this isn’t going to be a weekly guest piece, I decided to focus on the things that prompted me to write one book – Purpose since it is my most recent release.

Of course, as with all things there are many things that had a hand in the finished product: location, character traits, a strong supporting cast, all add to the flow and enjoyment of a book. To list everything that inspired the book would be hard thing. So I’ll focus on the main character and through him the majority of the plot.

Purpose came about in part because of my love of superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi paranormal, whatever you call it.  I remember as a kid really watching Super Friends, Thundar the Barbarian, Space Ghost [and the other super hero cartoons that went with that one], but would leave if forced to watch Scooby Doo.
My favorite super heroes were those at the fringe.  I never got into Batman, Superman, or Spiderman. When I was a kid, Batman always meant Adam West and the campy, ZAM! POW! series from the late 60’s.  Sure in later years DC Comics returned him to his dark knight roots, but even then, I couldn’t shake those ‘groovy’ moves of Batman dancing with the beatniks or surfing against Caesar Romeo’s Joker wearing board shorts over his costume.
I had no interest in the big blue boy scouts – Superman – or Captain Americas. No, my favorites were a bit darker, a bit less noble. Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and Magneto [technically not a hero, but he did have his moments of heroism] these were the ones with not only cool powers, but they didn’t always use them for the good of others. 

When the Watchmengraphic novel came out, that was right up my alley.  If you’ve never read it or seen the movie – the graphic novel was better IMHO – the plot line starts with Rorschach talking about how one of their own was murdered. Rorschach had an absolute view of things, either it was right or wrong. Never mind that his methods in the name of ‘right’ bore a strong resemblance to what the actions he saw as ‘wrong.’ His ethics didn’t extend to himself if someone broke the rules first. Once that happened, justice, vengeance, punishment by any means necessary was required.

Rorschach’s influence is strong in the character of Gar, but have no bearing on Will. Confused? Read the book.  The Purpose, the ancient spirit that took Will as its host, operated with a similar set of ‘rules.’ If someone killed an innocent, the host needed to seek vengeance on the guilty. Circumstances didn’t matter; there weren’t any gray areas. At least not once it made the decision that the victim was innocent.

The last influence on Purposewas the Highlanderseries. For me Will is Connor Macleod.  Not an immortal fighting to be the last man standing, but that is what he looks like, how he keeps to the shadows, and how he is resigned to his fate. Duncan wasn’t one to enjoy the killing, but it was a part of who he was, who he had to be.

The same was true for Will. The Purpose made him seek vengeance, but he didn’t enjoy what he was forced to do. It was part of who he’d become, not what he wanted for his life.

Of course inspiration is not imitation and Gar/Will is really nothing like any of the characters who influenced his creation. But in writing this, I realized for the first time how similar the two characters are that gave me the spark of the idea for Purpose.Funny how that worked out.

For those who haven’t seen the video trailer, it does a great job of capturing the mood of the book and the characters.

Inspiration Post #10: Portland

I’ve posted already about some of the places that inspired pieces of the Bones books. Today I’d like to share a few more.

This is Papa Haydn, a cafe in Northwest Portland. When Matty and Dylan go out to lunch in Buried Bones, they go someplace like this. The desserts are amazing. But Dylan is preoccupied, starting to worry because Chris isn’t answering his calls. Wonder what’s going on at the farm.

Dylan’s architecture firm is located in an imaginary building somewhere around here, in Southeast Portland. I took this photo just outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which is located on the river, almost underneath one of the bridge approaches. This used to be an industrial area but has been evolving in recent years. It’s the perfect location for Stender and Associates.

And these photos are in Beaverton. Beaverton is a fairly upscale and absolutely ordinary suburb, the kind of place with chain stores and terrible commuting traffic on the freeways. Not at all the type of place you’d expect a pair of lesbian futon queens to build that… interesting house Dylan designs for them in Good Bones. I grew up in Beaverton. Went to Beaverton High School, in fact. We were, I am sad to say, the Beavers. Yeah.

Next week: Testicle festival

Please welcome K.Z. Snow!

“Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown.”
by K. Z. Snow
That was the first succinct definition I came upon for a category of speculative fiction that began to intrigue me some years ago. I didn’t know much about steampunk then, despite the fact it was spawned (I’ve since learned) in the 1980s, but it sounded wonderfully quirky. I wanted to learn more about it.
At first, the definition I quoted above made me think steampunk only appealed to people in their late teens and early twenties who liked grunge and hardware in their cosplay. Not a lot of potential there for a writer. Then I heard the term linked to the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the TV show Wild, Wild West. Okay, so that meant steampunk integrated futuristic gadgetry into 19th-century life. It was sci fi in retrograde, neither too light nor too dark, definitely fanciful and kind of fun.
But how did the book world interpret steampunk beyond citing the work of H. G. Wells? My search for an answer wasn’t easy. Too many readers/reviewers/literary pundits randomly blurred the boundaries between fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, and steampunk. Then, of course, there were classic steampunk stories and contemporary steampunk stories and, to muddy the waters even more, YA steampunk stories.
I narrowed my search to romances and checked out offerings that were more or less current. The first examples I found were The Parasol Protectorateseries and another one with “clockwork” in the title.
Oh boy. After I read the blurbs and excerpts, my fascination all but evaporated. Seemed I’d stumbled into a parade of standard Mary Sue UF heroines plunked down in Victorian England. I pressed on but wasn’t encouraged. The vast majority of steampunk romances seemed to feature standard Mary Sue UF heroines in Victorian England. Or the American West. With endless descriptions of clothing. And repeated interjections of keywords like steam. And countless references to mandatory accessories.    
Um…no. As much popularity as they enjoyed, they weren’t for me.
Before I fully conceived Mongrel, I knew my approach would be dictated by things I wanted to avoid—even if that approach kicked my book out of the steampunk subgenre. Little did I realize my past reading had already given me a sense of what I was after. I needn’t have looked through all those lists at all. (More about that in a bit.)   
I didn’t want my characters to be gorgeous, self-possessed, endlessly capable, and relentlessly clever. No Special Snowflakes allowed. Instead I wanted mutts and misfits whose strength lay in their altruism and fundamental decency. Those were the qualities that would help them do whatever needed to be done to make their world a safer, saner place. 
 I also didn’t want to hammer readers with overused steampunk words, objects, locations, and historical figures. No plethora of parasols. No gaggle of goggles. No effin’ Queen Victoria or Buffalo Bill. I wanted a setting untethered. Although I decided to keep planet Earth and many aspects of its 19th century, I scrambled and renamed continents and oceans, nations and cities. As a result, the country in which Purin Province is located is a differently-imagined USA, and Purinton is a squalid mash-up of a half dozen American and British urban areas. In the end, though, it’s none of them. It’s purely Purinton.     
My love of steampunk (and here’s where my previous reading comes into play) ended up having little to do with costumes and gizmos and extraordinary gentlemen or ladies. To put it bluntly, I was drawn to this world’s potential for fucking people up through its grit and grime, crowding and crime, social injustices and government corruption. Progress and change often took grotesque turns in the late 1800s. Oddball inventions warred with science warred with religion, spiritualism, and occult sects. Industrialism refashioned physical as well as moral landscapes. Greed, ambition, and small-mindedness often trumped the Golden Rule.  
The steampunk universe I envisioned was more threatening, or at least confusing, than it was awe-inspiring. How did people survive there, locked as they were into such a confounding time full of such ugly places? In what did they find hope, redemption? 
Well…thank you, Charles Dickens, for planting a blueprint in the back of my mind. All I had to do was dig it out.
 Dickens’s work (and maybe that of the “muckrakers,” like Upton Sinclair) was the filter through which I finally interpreted steampunk to my satisfaction. I’d found the direction I wanted/needed to take. And Mongrelwas born.    
So for me, steampunk is what happens when Dickens discovers the gay and the paranormal. Too late to turn back now. 🙂
K. Z. Snow’s first steampunk novel, Mongrel is widely available.
Its sequel, Mermanwill be released July 17.
She’s currently working on the third and final story in the trilogy.

Inspiration post #9: Brute’s tower

In my novel Brute, Brute moves to the capital city of Tellomer and ends up with a job in the palace. His quarters are in the Brown Tower and his task is to guard the mysterious man imprisoned there.

The palace–which is really more of a castle–and the Brown Tower were inspired largely by a real place: the Tower of London.

I’ve visited the Tower of London a couple of times and it’s an amazing place. The oldest parts of it are nearly 1000 years old and it’s served in a variety of capacities: fortification, palace, armory, prison, place to store the crown jewels. Of course, nowadays it makes a nifty tourist attraction.

What struck me about the Tower was the way it was like a small city unto itself. At one time, people lived there and worked there, and there would have been stables, kitchens, workshops, and so on. There must have been a lot of activity going on almost all the time. There were tragedies, everyday dramas, and mysteries that remain unsolved. Gray’s prison, the Brown Tower, was most closely inspired by the Bloody Tower.

The Croatian city of Dubrovnik (the “Pearl of the Adriatic”) also played a part in my imagining of Brute’s home. It’s a city rather than a castle, but it’s surrounded by a fortified wall and the old city isn’t very big–if you walk the entire wall, it’s only about a mile. It took us a very long time, though, because we kept stopping to take pictures. Dubrovnik is one of the most picturesque places I’ve visited. It was once an important city-state, the republic of Ragusa.

Below are a few of the zillion photos I took in Dubrovnik. Incidentally, the city may look familiar if you’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It’s where they’re shooting the King’s Landing scenes.

Next week: Portland

Inspiration post #8: Dreams

I have fairly vivid dreams. The other night, for instance, I dreamed I was searching for something to wear to an Indian wedding. The colors in that dream were especially bright. Sometimes in my dreams my husband does something to make me angry and when I wake up I’m mad at the poor guy. My dreams rarely result in stories. An exception to this is Speechless.

I dreamed very clearly of a man sitting on the front steps to a house, strumming his guitar. He wasn’t singing. People were walking past him, not paying much attention, but he was alone. He didn’t look unhappy, exactly–but maybe a little frustrated.

I woke up still picturing the look on his face, the flowers that bloomed in front of his house, the cracks in the sidewalk. And I asked myself why he was sitting there, playing music without words.

I travel quite a bit and even had the opportunity to live in Croatia for 5 months. I’m not fluent in any language except English, alas, but my journeys have taught me that we can communicate amazingly well nonverbally. I once had a conversation with my Zagreb building manager, who spoke Croatian and German, and a man who turned out to be a chimney sweep, and whose entire grasp of English turned out to be, “Bad. Boom!” It took some effort and a bit of extemporaneous dramatics, but in the end the three of us had an understanding.

In Speechless, I had the chance to explore what the deal was with that guitar player, and also challenge myself with a nonverbal main character. And Drew ended up one of my favorite guys.

Next week: Brute’s Brown Tower