Ooh, That’s Interesting!: Sonora Cemetery

I’m in the middle of writing a novel set in a fictional town in California. The working title is Rattlesnake. The novel’s a contemporary, but the fictional town where it’s set is in Gold Rush territory in the Sierra foothills. Which, conveniently enough, is close to where I live.

As I was doing some research for my story, I stumbled upon a census for the old city cemetery in Sonora, California. Sonora is a town of about 5000 people. It was founded as a mining town, and you can still see the remains of mines right downtown. But the cemetery census is fascinating. You can see it yourself here: http://www.sonoraca.com/visitsonora/History/Old%20City%20Cemetery.pdf .

I’ve never actually visited the Sonora cemetery, although I love old graveyards. I’ve been to the Columbia cemetery many times, and it’s just a few miles away. Speaking of which, notice Joel A. Cumback’s headstone from Columbia: http://oldwest.theblincoes.com/ca/columb3.html (4th photo down). I’ve seen that one myself, and always wondered what the story was. His friend Jacob R. Giddis cared enough for him to buy him the stone–and to put his own name on it. Were they lovers? And then poor Jacob was murdered just a few years later and buried next to Joel.

One thing you can see from the Sonora census is that immigrants came there from lots of places. China, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, Serbia, France, England, Germany…. These people must have endured some really hard journeys to get to Sonora, and once they got there, their lives were still hard. A lot of them died in mining accidents. Some died of exposure or burns or falls or drowning. Murder and suicide were apparently common, as were drug and alcohol use. A lot of people died from TB, as well as things that rarely take lives today (at least in the US): diphtheria, typhoid, typhus, croup, infections. And a few people died rather colorfully, like the 4-year-old who, according to the record, died from eating watermelon. Or the man who was bitten by a bear and died 6 days later.

I also was fascinated by the little snippets of information about some of the people. One of them was an “actress.” In a mining town in 1870, I wonder what kind of acting she was doing. Another had fame as a dancer. A miner died in an accident, leaving his wife and children, who were still back in Wales. Another man murdered his wife and two young children. Several people hung themselves in jail cells. One 70-year-old was survived by 15 children. At least two of the people buried in Sonora were originally brought to California as slaves.

The cemetery census provides a thousand plot bunnies. Next time I go to Sonora, I plan to visit the cemetery. I can post some photos if you like. Don’t be surprised if I eventually write a historical set in the Gold Rush era.

When the Writing Gets Angsty

Jamie Fessenden just posted about how he’s having a tough time writing an emotionally difficult but essential scene. And I know just how he feels, because I just gave my MC an unexpected case of the flu, I think partly to delay getting to one of those hard scenes. There have been a couple of books where writing particular scenes just about devastated me (I’m talking about you, Tin Box and Motel. Pool.). But we still have to write them.

And yes, I know even as I’m writing that most of the characters will eventually get a happy ending. Readers realize that too, because these are romance books, after all. But we’ve come to love these guys over the course of the story, and their pain feels real.

So now I’m wondering. If you’re a writer, do you share this problem? How do you face it? If you’re a reader, how do you feel about reading these scenes? Do you have a strategy for getting through them (besides keeping Kleenex close at hand)?

And now’s where we can all put on our psychology hats. Why do we like the angst? We must, because even though it hurts, I keep writing it (as do many of my favorite authors), and we keep reading it.

And finally, what are some of the difficult scenes–in any book–that have touched you the most?

It’s the holidays, so to encourage you to be chatty, I’m doing a little giveaway.

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Kim isn’t reading now, sadly

Usually on a Monday I’d do a What’s Kim Reading Now post. But the truth is, I haven’t been able to read much of anything for the past couple of weeks. First I had the end of the semester, which meant lots of reading–of term papers and exams. Then I had edits to finish on my 12th novel so I could submit it (done!), two rounds of edits on a novella that will release on March (Grown-Up), and my 13th novel in progress. On top of all that, my laptop got a virus I have not yet cleared up, and my old laptop is pretty much nonfunctional. I’ve resorted to borrowing my 15-year-old daughter’s laptop, which is 4 1/2 years old and badly needs replacing. Argh! At least I’m pretty good at backing up, so the virus didn’t cost me anything important.

We took a family vacation last week. We spent half the week in Solvang, a faux-Danish town with way too many bakeries.

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Then we visited family in Palm Desert. The highlight was Joshua Tree National Park, which we’d been to only once before. My younger kid climbed rocks and we all had a nice hike through the desert. And at least my daughter got some reading done. Two Stephen Kings and a Kurt Vonnegut, I believe.

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Now we’re back home. Aside from all the writing, I have a day trip to the Sierra foothills planned for this week, plus a very complicated 3-way family cell phone upgrade. And child chaufeurring to do.

What are you up to?

 

Blast from the Past: Electric Melty Tingles by K.Z. Snow

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It’s August of 1970, and the friends of 21-year-old Oliver Duncan are having a blast at his bachelor party. Except Ned Surwicki. He isn’t an Ivy Leaguer. He doesn’t appreciate female strippers. And although he’s been Oliver’s best friend since they were 14, Ned isn’t much inclined to celebrate his pal’s impending marriage. Ned is gay, something he’s known since he kissed a boy and got the melty tingles. He’s also in love with the groom-to-be.

Ned is miserable.

On the night before his wedding, Oliver realizes he’s miserable too. And he has only one person to turn to.

Thus begins a romance that spans forty years, requires one coming-out after another, and survives a broken engagement, a menage with War and Pees, world travel, an ill-advised marriage, scores of fuck buddies, a father who thinks his son is destined to be a clone of Liberace, parents who reject their son, and, worst of all, the failure of two misguided men to pursue their fondest dream.

The most important coming-out for Ned and Oliver is summed up in a declaration they spend too many years trying futilely to forget: “I love you. That’s never going to change.”

 

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id — http://www.loose-id.com/electric-melty-tingles.html

Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Electric-Melty-Tingles-K-Snow-ebook/dp/B004EPYTRW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415830156&sr=1-1&keywords=electric+melty+tingles

All Romance eBooks — https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-electricmeltytingles-489370-145.html

B&N –http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/electric-melty-tingles-k-z-snow/1026662024?ean=9781607378617

 Excerpt:

Oliver’s current room at the Pfister was two floors down from where his bachelor extravaganza had been held, which was also one of the suites in which the wedding party was to gather in the morning. The out-of-town guests were staying in the hotel’s 1965 Tower addition—a hideously dissonant piece of architecture that reminded me of a stack of butter cookies or coffee filters—I couldn’t decide which. Oliver made me identify myself before he opened the door, and then he yanked me inside.

“What’s going on?” I asked as he locked the door at my back. I went to the closet and hung up my tux, then set down my bag. “How come you’re not staying upstairs?” By upstairs I meant one of the two suites the Duncans had reserved for the wedding.

Oliver stood with his hands on his hips, stared at the floor, and nibbled at the inside of his cheek. He wore a Hang Ten T-shirt and a matching pair of Adidas shorts, and all I wanted to do was tackle him and drop him onto one of the room’s two double beds.

When he looked up, I noticed the shadows beneath his eyes. He was on his way to being a mess, both physically and mentally, but he was beautiful to me.

“I’m all fucked up, Ned.”

“Why?”

Oliver’s face contorted, and he suddenly bolted into the bathroom. The sounds of retching were unmistakable.

I sprinted to his aid just as the toilet flushed. Kneeling beside him, I laid one hand on his back and curled the other over his forehead.

“Your hand feels good,” he mumbled to the swirling water. “Cool. Soothing” After a moment, he tentatively sat back on his heels and caught his breath.

Christ, he was a wreck. I got up and wet a washcloth at the sink then poured a glass of water. When I sat beside Oliver again, he took some water into his mouth, swished it around, and spat it into the toilet. Then he took a drink. I tilted his head toward me and gently swabbed the perspiration from his face. The delicate spears of dark lashes on his lowered eyelids made him look young and vulnerable.

Well, hell, he was young. We both were. Oliver was twenty-one. I was still twenty.

“That’s like the fourth time I’ve thrown up today,” he said.

“Have you been drinking?” He didn’t smell like it.

“No. Maybe I should start.”

“What’s wrong? Tell me.”

He dolefully shook his head. “Tomorrow… I’m not up to it.”

“You feel that bad?” Late August was a strange time of year to get the flu, but it was possible. Or maybe he had food poisoning.

“I only feel bad when I think about walking into that church. Just sitting here with you, I feel fine.” Oliver briefly put a hand over mine. His felt clammy. “Thank you for coming.”

“I had to show up sooner or later. I’m your best man.”

“Maybe not.”

I laughed nervously. “What, you’re firing me?”

Oliver’s smile was so wan, he looked like an invalid. He rose from the tiles and shambled out of the bathroom. I followed. When he sat on the edge of one bed, I sat on the other, facing him.

K. Z. Snow spent her formative years in Milwaukee bars—not because her parents were drunks, but because they were neighborhood tavern keepers. And, ja, a good life it was! She learned her first words off a Wurlitzer jukebox and could play poker as well as dance a mean polka by the time she was five. Too much has happened since then to recount. She now lives a quiet life with two rescue dogs in rural Wisconsin, where a crazy-ass crop duster pilot provides the area’s only excitement. Except when someone digs up an obscenely shaped potato. Or the Packers win.

Check out K. Z.’s website http://www.kzsnow.com to peruse all her titles, or her blog http://kzsnow.blogspot.com for news, or her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/KZSnow for the hell of it.

 

 

 

Ooh, That’s Interesting! Forensics II

I know I posted about forensics last week. But I recently saw this article, which is fascinating. A skeleton found under a parking lot in England has been pretty much proven to be that of King Richard III, who died in 1485. Here are several things I think are cool about this:

–They could confirm his ID by matching mitochondrial DNA with that of living descendants.

–The analysis also suggested that maybe English royalty fooled around more than we thought.

–Now that we know it’s King Richard III, scientists could possibly help solve a murder mystery. King Dick’s young nephews–one of whom was actually heir to the throne–disappeared while locked up in the Tower of London. A couple hundred years later, the skeletons of two children were discovered at the Tower. Since we know where those bodies are buried, now scientists could check their DNA and compare to Uncle Dick’s.

–British parking lots are damned interesting places. See also this, and this, and this, and this. I’ve actually seen that last one in person, and I think it’s funny. Yes, I have sort of a dark sense of humor. In defense of my home state, however, I should mention that California parking lots are also occasionally interesting.

–Actually, one can find long-dead British people in a variety of surprising places. Like Jeremy Bentham, for instance.

Blast from the Past: The Boys of Summer

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The Boys of Summer by Sarah Madison

Contemporary/Historical M/M Romance

Finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards. Nominated Best Historical in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice AwardsSelected as a Best Read in 2013 by Jessewave. Winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards. 

Blurb:

This couldn’t be happening. The plane couldn’t be going down.

As production assistant, David McIntyre has been enjoying the heck out of his current assignment: touring the Hawaiian Islands in search of the ideal shooting locations for a series of company projects. What’s not to like? Stunning scenery, great food, sunny beaches…and indulging in his crush on his hot pilot-for-hire, Rick Sutton.

Everything changes when a tropical storm and engine failure force a crash landing on a deserted atoll somewhere in the South Pacific. Sutton’s injuries and a lack of food and water make rescue imperative, but it takes an intensely vivid dream about the Battle of Britain to make David see that Rick is more than just a pilot to him. Will David gather his courage to confess his feelings to Rick—before it’s too late?

On Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00CCUVR7G

Inspiration:

People often ask me what was the inspiration for writing The Boys of Summer, and the answer is simple, really. I was merrily trucking along with my contemporary story, but I couldn’t shake the image of Rick Sutton in a WW2 RAF pilot’s uniform, leaning against the side of a Spitfire.

Well, that didn’t fit with the story I had in mind, but no problem. I’d introduce a little dream sequence that allowed me to use that powerful image. It would work because David McIntyre was researching Bletchley Park and Alan Turing for a film project he was working on—stranded on a deserted atoll with an injured pilot, having discovering a WW2 listening outpost, it would only be natural that his dreams would turn to WW2. Logically, I should have written about Pearl Harbor, seeing as the story takes place in the South Pacific. But that RAF uniform stuck with me. Right, so a little research online to get the details right about the time period and off I go.

Only the more I researched, the more appalled I became at my level of ignorance about WW2, and the Battle of Britain in particular. Sure, I’d heard Churchill’s speech about “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” but the words hadn’t completely registered with me before. It wasn’t until I read in detail about the Battle of Britain, and the odds these young pilots faced, that it really began to sink in. Many pilots were sent into battle with less than ten hours of flight time. At one time, the average lifespan of a fighter pilot in the RAF was six weeks. The more I delved into the history, the more important it became to me to do justice to their story. Sure, I could have written an entire novel just on that period in time, but it would have ended in tears. I needed a happy ending. I believe in happy endings. And so the weird amalgamation of historical and contemporary story was born. Some people hated it, but many more loved it. I hope you will, too.

 

 Excerpt:

“Hey! Hey! Don’t pass out on me,” David warned, reaching under Sutton’s jacket and around his body to take hold of his torso. “I’ll never get you out of here if you pass out, and I can’t reach whatever’s bleeding from here. I need to stop the bleeding, okay? You’re going to have to help me.”

Sutton nodded silently. His lack of heroic banter worried David. He tightened his grip around Sutton’s chest, locking wrists that were slick with far too much blood. Where the hell was it coming from? He braced his feet against Sutton’s chair and pulled.

At first, it seemed like nothing was happening, as though he was attempting to lift a two ton gold brick. Then slowly, he felt Sutton coming with him, oozing out of the seat like a man being pulled out of quicksand. Sutton wasn’t helping him much, a fact that scared the crap out of him. He’d slung one arm around David’s shoulder, but he was pretty much dead weight as David tugged on him. Nonetheless, things were progressing steadily, with David gradually pulling Sutton up out of the crumpled mess that was the pilot’s seat, when suddenly they stopped moving.

David grunted and tugged some more, but to no avail. He slithered around, trying to get a different grip on Sutton but nothing worked.

“Hang on,” Sutton said, his breath coming in short, warm bursts near David’s ear. “I think I’m caught on something.”

“What, again?” David asked, and was rewarded with a faint chuckle. It was odd to think he could so easily turn his head and his lips would be on Sutton’s. They were practically embracing now. As it was, Sutton shifted, trying to move his injured side, reaching around behind him. His actions caused him to arch his back slightly, pushing up against David’s chest. The rain had soaked through Sutton’s shirt, leaving no questions as to his physical fitness. They could have been skin to skin, the contact was so close.

“Fuck, that hurts.” Sutton slumped against him. “Sorry.” His words were little more than exhaled breath. “I can’t reach it.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” David huffed, pulling Sutton closer into his body and then fishing around blindly behind him to see what he was caught on. He found the offending piece of cloth, hung on part of the console. When he couldn’t unsnag it, he tore it instead. He collected Sutton into his grip once more. “Most heroes could get impaled in the belly at least once every other episode, and still manage to fight off the bad guys and get the girl in the end. You’re supposed to say, ‘I’m fine, I have at least two kidneys’ and keep moving, mister.”

A laugh so soft it only stirred the hair near his ear sent a ripple of undefined emotion through David. He was so afraid Sutton would die. He needed Sutton not to die.

 

Sarah Madison Author Bio and Contact Information

Bio: Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.

Contacts:

Website: http://www.sarahmadisonfiction.com/

On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004K9QY5C

On Facebook (Author page): http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Sarah-Madison-Author/106445646104338

On Facebook (Profile page): https://www.facebook.com/akasarahmadison

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahMadisonFic

On Dreamspinner: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/advanced_search_result.php?keywords=Sarah+Madison&osCsid=i8qhvu8sb7150s11croi48klc3&x=31&y=8

Goodreads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4057853.Sarah_Madison

On Tumblr: http://sarahmadisonfiction.tumblr.com/

 

Ooh! That’s interesting!: Forensics

I have a colleague who’s a forensic anthropologist and gave me a tour of her bone room when she was working on a case involving the victims of serial killers. It was poignant–a shoe still contained a skeletal foot. It was also really interesting. What looks to me like a random piece of bone allows her to identify the age, gender, and maybe even height of the victim.

I also have a colleague who’s a forensic entomologist–he studies the use of insects in legal cases. I once had a fascinating lunch with him and a very well-known forensic entomologist who has a very loud voice. Everyone else in the cafeteria soon moved far away from us, but I was enthralled (I have a very strong stomach). Did you know one of the best ways to estimate time of death–something very important in a homicide case–is by studying the insects living on the body? And in warm weather outdoors, blowflies can locate a corpse within minutes.

Here’s another interesting factoid. One of the earliest recorded uses of forensics was in China in the 13th century. Here’s a summary of that incident. The summary’s from a really interesting book called A Fly for the Prosecution.

There have been some amazing developments lately in forensic science. Among other things, these have led to the exoneration of at least 321 wrongly convicted people. Just a few weeks ago, a man who’d been in a California prison for almost 36 years was released.

Some of the newer stuff feels almost like magic. Like scientists at MIT who say they can reconstruct speech by looking at the vibrations of recorded images of things like potato chip bags.

How cool is that?

Miscellany post

So, last week we got rain. Where I live, 3.2 inches in 2 days. Which is a lot, considering that our annual rainfall is 12″ and last year we had half that. California’s not out of the drought by a long shot, but it’s nice to see some moisture for a change. And snow in the mountains. Maybe the kids can go skiing this year.

The soil where I live is sand over hardpan, and it floods immediately even with light rain. So they build catchment basins, which serve as soccer fields or parks when it’s dry. During my walk the other day, I saw egrets, gulls, and canoers enjoying one of the basins near my house.

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Last weekend was also the winter formal dance at my older daughter’s high school. She and her boyfriend dressed up.

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They are adorable together, aren’t they? And–ARGH!–she is the same age I was when I met my husband.

Today’s the last day of finals for me, so once I get the exams graded I’m more or less free for a few weeks. Which is good, because we’re doing edits on my novella Grown-Up, which releases in March or April. I’m also getting ready to submit novel #12, a sort of fantasy/sci-fi thing called Astounding! The Speechless and Bones guys all make brief appearances. And I’m partway through my first draft of a contemporary with the working title of Rattlesnake. And my family’s heading for southern California for vacation shortly. When I get back, I want to start up a quarterly newsletter. So I should have plenty to keep me busy for a while!

Can I make one last plea? I’m about to make a pretty large end-of-the-year donation to Doctors Without Borders. With your help, that donation could be even larger, because I give them all my royalties from my self-published books: The Festivus Miracle, Joys R Us, Stasis, Flux, and Equipoise. So if you haven’t already bought these, please consider doing so now. Buy links are all on this page.

So… what are you guys up to?

Travis’s Birthday

This little ficlet is a follow-up to Speechless and The Gig.

***

“Where are we going?” Travis demanded as the black T-Bird bounced down the gravel road.

Judging by the smirk on his face, Drew wouldn’t have told him even if he could speak. Which he couldn’t, because he had aphasia, but that didn’t stop him from looking insufferably smug. Travis wanted to kiss the self-satisfied look right off his face, but that probably wasn’t wise in a moving vehicle.

And then the vehicle wasn’t moving anymore because Drew parked in front of a big white farmhouse. All the windows glowed welcomingly, and a small fleet of cars was arrayed along the road. As he climbed out of the passenger seat, Travis recognized the yellow Mini with the black bonnet stripes. “Hey! That’s Ery’s car. What’s going on, Drew?”

Drew gave him a crooked smile—devilishly handsome—and grabbed his guitar case from the backseat before taking Travis’s hand and leading him around the house. Travis heard the soft hum of voices, but when they rounded the corner he came to a shocked halt. The grassy area between the house and barn was illuminated by torches and strings of lights. Several large tables sported colorful cloths; one was piled high with brightly wrapped packages. Folding chairs were scattered everywhere.

There were a whole lot of people… and Travis was surprised to find that he knew every one of them. His bosses, the futon queens of Portland. Most of the people from work. His friends Dylan and Chris, who’d found him his dream job. Cute Ery Phillips—with his boyfriend, the beautiful if slightly odd Karl, who played guitar with Drew at P-Town coffee house once a week. Hell, the owner of P-Town was there too, along with Travis’s favorite baristas, each holding a glass of wine. And was that his BFF Sara, deep in conversation with Drew’s mother? They both lived in California and Travis hadn’t had a clue they were in town.

Because Travis and Drew stood in the darkness, nobody had seen them yet. That gave Travis plenty of time to gape, which was good. Finally, he turned to Drew and whispered, “What the hell?”

Drew gestured at a paper banner strung on the side of the barn, undoubtedly painted by Ery. It was a little hard to read because he’d embellished the words with images of bright balloons, bursting fireworks, and gigantic cakes. And, for reasons known only to Ery, multi-colored penises and grinning mermen.

Travis squinted his single eye.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TRAVIS!!

More gaping ensued, followed by a more fervent repeat of his question. “What the hell, Drew?”

Drew let go of Travis’s hand, gently set down the guitar, and grasped Travis’s shoulders. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. Even in the dim light, love shone brightly from his blue eyes. Maybe he knew that Travis hadn’t had a birthday party since he was seven, and that it had been a pathetic little affair during which Travis’s parents got shitfaced and screamed at each other in front of his classmates who didn’t want to be there to begin with. Or maybe he didn’t know that. Right now that didn’t matter, because Drew was pressing his warm lips to Travis’s. It was a gentle kiss, but it made Travis’s heart race, his toes curl, his jeans feel way too tight.

With another of his smirks, Drew pulled slightly away. He waved his arm toward the milling people, his meaning crystal clear. I did this for you because I love you. These people are all here for you because they’re your friends.

And how fucking amazing was that?

Once upon a time, Travis was alone and lonely. Sara lived far away and his only other friend was his cat, Elwood—who was in it mostly for the kibble. He had a shitty job and no good prospects for the future. And now here he was, with a yard full of people who cared about him. And an amazing man who loved him.

Travis leaned in and kissed Drew back, hard and greedy. He was satisfied when his normally silent lover let out a deep groan.

With a smirk of his own, Travis moved back a little, picked up the guitar, and gave Drew’s ass a friendly swat. “Looks like it’s time for a party,” he said.

And he stepped out into the light to greet his friends.

 

 

What’s Kim Reading Now: Prisoner 374215 by Angel Martinez

I reread this today for the 3rd or 4th time while I was giving my students an exam. It was the perfect length for it, not to mention suitably bleak and angsty (but with an HEA).

I make no secret over loving a good hurt/comfort story, and this one delivers. The MC is a prisoner, broken in spirit, mind, and body. Through the small details, Martinez does an excellent job of depicting the pain and bleakness of his life. But then a tiny bit of hope shines in, in the form of one of his guards. Small crumbs of kindness go a long way and the relationship between them develops realistically.

Also, it’s sci-fi, and there’s not enough of that in m/m romance. Oh, and it’s free: http://www.mmromancegroup.com/prisoner-374215-by-angel-martinez/