Travel

So today I’m going to let you in on one of my not-so-secret loves: travel. Seriously, I love to travel. The actual travel part–schlepping myself via plane, train, or automobile–isn’t the good part, although I do enjoy trains and boats, and I like the uninterrupted and guilt-free reading and writing time that a long plane rides gives me.

My favorite part is exploring Someplace Else. It doesn’t particularly matter where the Someplace Else is. A lot of my favorite S.E.s are less than two hours from my house: San Francisco, Yosemite, Gold Rush country, the beach. But even better if the S.E. is more exotic.

Last year I was extremely fortunate and was able to live and work in Croatia for 5 months. I got to see lots of that beautiful country. Plitvice Lakes has to be one of the world’s most beautiful locations, and Dubrovnik is like a dream, made slightly bittersweet by what happened there during the Homeland War. But during my European adventure I was also able to travel to Spain, Scotland, England, Italy (twice), Austria (twice), and Slovenia (many many times). I saw some fascinating things, met some wonderful people, and ate amazing food. I learned to decode menus and manage basic interactions multilingually. It was a blast. It was also exhausting.

So when I returned to the US and collapsed into my bed, how long did it take me to yearn for travel once again? Three weeks.

I’m not sure what it is about travel that so captures me, but I know one thing: it gives me endless inspiration for writing. My next novel will, I believe, be set in Venice, where I spent a wonderful week. And I’ll be able to describe exactly how the fresh fish tasted, eaten raw or just lightly sauted in olive oil. I can describe the sound of thousands of tourists in Piazza San Marco, the smell of the lagoon, the feeling of a vaporetto bumping into a dock, the way the local women blocked the narrow streets–some so narrow you can easily touch both sides at once–as they chat, and the way waiters made a fuss over my 8-year-old daughter.

Give me one day in a city not my own and I can give you a novel.

Now, there is one part of travel I truly hate, and that is packing. Hate hate hate it. I can barely decide what to wear each morning–how can I choose for a week someplace I’ve never been where the weather is unknown? I always give myself the Going to Mars Talk: “Pack lightly, as best as you can, and if you need something when you get there, you can buy it. You’re not going to Mars.” Actually, some of those purchases end up being fun souvenirs. My rainjacket will remind me of Edinburgh everytime I wear it (Edinburgh in June=cold and rainy), and my watch is a daily reminder of Trieste, Italy.

What travel do I have planned for the rest of this year? San Francisco, Yosemite, Cambria, Palm Desert, Portland, Croatia (and somewhere else in Europe TBA), Albuquerque, Mexico.

Where do you love to go?

New story

Dreamspinner’s Time Is Eternity anthology will include one of my stories. You can wait until June and buy the story on its own, or you can buy the entire anthology–a story a day in June. If you preorder the package now the price is lower. My story, “Violet’s Present,” is an angsty one set partly in the 1940s. More information here.

Here’s the blurb for my story:
When Matt’s Great-great-aunt Violet dies, she leaves him a precious gift: a photo album he loved as a child. Then Matt starts having dreams—very good dreams—about Joseph, one of the men in the pictures from the 1940s. One morning when Matt wakes up, the bruises are still there. Could there be more to Violet’s present than he thought?

Men of Steel released today

Men of Steel was released today! And the ebook format is 20% today and tomorrow. As a bit of a tease, here’s a brief excerpt from my story, “Act One.”

He ended up with only a fifteen-minute break instead of the half hour he was due. That would give him barely enough time to wolf a sandwich and gulp a Coke, but a desperate Brittani promised him an extra hour on his time card in exchange. She even gave him a brief smile when he agreed.

The back room was crowded with boxes and smelled like leather and rubber, so Garret took his break on the walkway outside. He chewed his ham on sourdough and leaned over the railing. If he angled his head just right he could look through the mall entranceway and catch a glimpse of Nourish-Man. Sometimes the superhero posed for photos, but mostly he stood and waited as people passed him by in favor of Captain America, Superman, and Ironman.

Not for the first time, Garret wondered why the guy had chosen such an obscure character to portray. The Nourish-Man cartoon had only lasted a season or two back in the late eighties, maybe three dozen badly drawn episodes of a guy in green and orange who admonished children to eat healthily so they would grow up strong like him. Garret used to watch the series now and then, but even his eight-year-old self—seated in front of the TV on a Saturday morning and munching on a Pop-Tart—had realized the cartoon was only a thinly disguised message to eat more broccoli.

Now, Garret took one last look at Nourish-Man before wadding up his paper lunch sack and tossing it in a nearby trashcan. The guy certainly looked the part of a superhero. He filled out his costume very well with what Garret was fairly certain were real, hard muscles—not padding. His carrot-colored tights stretched nicely over a magnificent ass and impressive package—assuming that wasn’t padding either. Most of his face was obscured by his mask, but a square jaw, cleft chin, and plump lips were left uncovered, as were his flashing brown eyes.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Garret said out loud, startling a woman with a baby stroller. Here he was with his sad little life, reduced to mooning over third-rate costumed characters. He turned and headed back into Shoe Starz to finish his shift.

Good Bones

I am really thrilled to announce that my new novel, Good Bones, will be available on April 20. It will be available in print and ebook formats, directly through the publisher or through Amazon. It has a gorgeous cover by Christine Griffin.

Skinny, quiet hipster Dylan Warner was the kind of guy other men barely glanced at until an evening’s indiscretion with a handsome stranger turned him into a werewolf. Now, despite a slightly hairy handicap, he just wants to live an ordinary—if lonely—life as an architect. He tries to keep his wild impulses in check, but after one too many close calls, Dylan gives up his urban life and moves to the country, where he will be less likely to harm someone else. His new home is a dilapidated but promising house that comes with a former Christmas tree farm and a solitary neighbor: sexy, rustic Chris Nock.

Dylan hires Chris to help him renovate the farmhouse and quickly discovers his assumptions about his neighbor are inaccurate—and that he’d very much like Chris to become a permanent fixture in his life as well as his home. Between proving himself to his boss, coping with the seductive lure of his dangerous ex-lover, and his limited romantic experience, Dylan finds it hard enough to express himself—how can he bring up his monthly urge to howl at the moon?

Productivity

Today’s blog subject is productivity–mainly because I’ve had very little of it for the past few days!

I’ve always been a fast writer. I wrote my first textbook in one semester, a pace that was assisted by my knowledge that I was due to have my second child at the end of that semester. There’s nothing more inspiring than a deadline you know you can’t get around! I write fiction pretty quickly too. In the last 6 months I’ve written 3 novels, 3 short stories, and several pieces of fanfic–on top of my regular academic and household duties. When I’m working on a novel, I average maybe 2000 words a day, but I can manage much more if it’s a short story or if I have a particular reason to hurry.

Ironically, I think one of the reasons I’m so productive is that I’m also very busy. When I sit down for writing time, I’m fully aware that it’s then or never. I rarely have the kind of day where I can futz around with all those little things that waste time without accomplishing much.

I wonder sometimes if I would be as productive if I were able to write full time.     

Research

Today I’m going to share with you one of my deep, dark secrets: I really love doing background research for my fiction.

Once an academic geek, always an academic geek, I guess. And fiction gives me the excuse to research all sorts of topics that have nothing whatsoever to do with my academic specialty but are still really interesting. For example, for the Praesidium trilogy I ended up learning about nineteenth century sailing ships. Didn’t know the first thing about the topic ahead of time.

Also–and I suppose maybe this is more evidence of my geekhood–I love history. Not the boring stuff about which year some war was fought or who signed which treaty. But the cool stuff, like what did people eat in medieval England, or how did the Roman empire affect language and culture throughout Europe, or what were the sanitation practices in Victorian London. It helps when I’ve traveled to some of the places I write about and I can actually picture the houses and the countryside.

Doing research makes me feel a little like a detective. And it gives me a fantastic excuse to talk to people and ask them all sorts of nosy questions, to try just a taste of places or lifestyles or jobs that will never be mine.

Often the research itself suggests plotlines I’d never have thought of on my own. Sometimes the research slows down my writing because I end up on some fascinating detour, but then I never know when that detour will come in handy.

And there’s a really deep satisfaction I get when I’m able to paint details with precise accuracy, even if nobody but a few people who happen to be familiar with the topic will realize how accurate those details are. So if you’re reading one of my works and you come accross a factoid on, say, the weather during D-Day, you can rest assured it’s as correct as I was able to get it.     

Creativity

So I’m back from New York City and working away. Last night I finished the first draft of my newest novel, tentatively titled Brute. It’s another darkish fantasy, so if you enjoyed the Praesidium books I think you’ll like this one. Now it’s time for editing, which is a process I’ve grown to enjoy. I learn a lot from it, and it’s such fun to see my work get all polished and pretty! It’s also wonderful to get my first chance to see how readers react to a story.

I heard an interview on NPR this morning with Jonah Lehrer, author of a book called Imagine: How Creativity Works. I haven’t read his book yet. But he was talking in the interview about the portion of the brain (it’s in the right brain) responsible for creative leaps as well as things like understanding jokes and metaphors. And he was saying how lots of people experience these creative leaps in bed in the morning or while showering. Hey, that’s me! 

For me, creativity is usually a very sudden process. I can’t force it, but then while I’m driving or brushing my teeth, the solution I’m looking for or the new plot twist just pops into my head, all shiny and tied with a bow.