The Pillar Release Day — and Contest!

Today is release day for my newest novella, The Pillar! You can buy it at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, ARe, or other booksellers. To celebrate, I’m running a contest. Details are below, but first, the blurb:

During his youth, orphaned thief Faris was flogged at the pillar in the town square and left to die. But a kind old man saved him, gave him a home, and taught him a profession. Now Faris is the herbalist for the town of Zidar, taking care of the injured and ill. He remains lonely, haunted by his past, and insecure about how his community views him. One night, despite his reluctance, he saves a dying slave from the pillar.

A former soldier, Boro has spent the last decade as a brutalized slave. Herbs and ointment can heal his physical wounds, but both men carry scars that run deep. Bound by the constraints of law and social class in 15th century Bosnia, Faris and Boro must overcome powerful enemies to protect the fragile happiness they’ve found.

That lovely cover is by Shobana Appavu.

I’m really excited about this book and I fell hard for Faris and Boro. I hope you do too! Even if historicals aren’t usually your thing, give this one a try. Maybe you’ll discover you adore medieval Bosnia.

Now for the contest. I had such fun with the haiku contest that I wanted to try something else kind of different. Here are the rules:

  1. To enter, comment on this entry with a piece of m/m flash fiction no more than 140 characters long! Any rating is fine, but they must be your original words. Your characters can be your own originals or you can borrow guys from any of my books. (Please don’t use anybody else’s guys because we don’t have permission.)
  2. Make sure you leave your email address so I can contact you if you win.
  3. You may submit up to 3 entries.
  4. Contest ends August 20, 2014 at noon Pacific time.
  5. A panel of judges will choose the winner. The decision is final. The winner will receive a copy of the audiobook version of my award-winning fantasy novel, Brute.
  6. If there are more than 30 valid entries, we will choose a second place winner as well. The second-prize winner will receive a copy of the ebook version of my paranormal novel, Motel Pool.

If you have any questions, please email me:

The Pillar

My new novella is The Pillar. In part, the title refers to a literal pillar of stone. In my story, criminals and disobedient slaves are tied to the pillar and whipped as punishment. Some of them are left there to die–unless a kind stranger saves them.

The novella is set in a fictional town in 15th century Bosnia. Although I’ve exercised creative license with medieval Bosnian law, punishment pillars did in fact exist in that general region.

I took this photo a few years ago in the town of Zadar, which is located on the coast of Croatia:


(Yes, Spike the vampire travels with me. He’s been to over a dozen countries. He’s a good travel companion.)

Zadar was once a part of the Roman empire, and the city had a large Roman forum, or square. This photo shows a part of the forum (although the buildings are newer). See that stone column to the right of Spike? That was the Pillar of Shame. Wrongdoers would be chained to it and humiliated or beaten.

Other cities in Europe also had punishment pillars, and some still remain. When I googled, I found one in Senec, Slovakia. And here’s one in Germany and one in Portugal. In England and the early U.S., we had a slightly different version of this form of punishment; we called it the pillory.

In my novella, an orphaned thief named Faris barely survives the pillar as a youth. years later, he rescues another man from the pillar–a slave named Boro. As for what happens next, you’ll have to read the book! It’s available now for preorder and releases August 13.


If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that my upcoming novella, The Pillar, is set in 15th century Bosnia. The story was inspired by a few days I spent in Bosnia & Herzegovina last year. I’ve already posted pictures from the country’s fascinating capital, Sarajevo. But The Pillar is set in a fictional town called Zidar, which is based loosely on the real town of Mostar.

The photo at the top of this entry tells you right away why Mostar is a popular tourist destination. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

It was raining the November day I visited, so my photos look like watercolor paintings. Mostar is just as beautiful close-up, with the cobbled streets and multicolored houses.


The city has a long history. One of my favorite places to visit was this beautiful mosque–now a museum. It’s the same mosque you can see on the left side of the photo above. It was built in the 17th century. Here’s the interior:


The courtyard outside the mosque is the direct inspiration for the courtyard in The Pillar where Faris the healer first meets Boro, a dying slave. In real life, there’s no pillar in Mostar–although there is one In a coastal town in Croatia. I’ll share that photo in a later post. You can see the fictional courtyard in Shobana Appavu’s gorgeous cover for The Pillar.

As in much of the rest of the country, some of Mostar’s history is tragic. During the war in the early 1990s, much of the city was under seige. Whereas in Sarajevo, it was mostly Bosnian Serb forces that beseiged the city, in Mostar it was mostly Bosnian Croat forces. Local Bosniaks (Muslims) had to flee or live under terrible conditions, and there was a lot of damage to the city. (I won’t even attempt here to explain the complexities of that war. I’m hardly an expert on the subject anyway. Suffice it to say that I’ve seen enough to understand that the human toll was chilling.)

Perhaps the most heartbreaking damage was the destruction of the Old Bridge (Stari Most), which was built in the 17th century. The town itself was named after the bridge: Mostar means bridgekeeper.


Several years after the war, the bridge was rebuilt using stones from the same quarry as the original, and using the same techniques. It’s a centuries-old tradition for young men to dive into the river from the bridge. Nobody was diving on the chilly day I was there, though!

I took this photo from one end of the bridge. In my book, I describe an important office building. I imagined it looking much like the yellow building you see to the right of the tower.


Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very conducive that day to lingering by the bridge with some Bosnian coffee. But I did have a very nice meal:


That’s local trout with blitva (sauteed Swiss chard) on the side. Mmm, I love blitva. And yes, my dear American readers, it is customary in Europe for fish to be served whole, eyes and all. For some reason, here in the US we don’t like our dinners looking back at us.

Aside from being proficient in English, the waiters at this restaurant also sailed instantly and effortlessly between three currencies, maintaining the proper exchange rates the whole time.

I really only had half a day in Mostar. I very much hope to return someday soon!


My upcoming novella, The Pillar, takes place in 15th century Bosnia. It was inspired by a few days I spent there last year.

Today I’d like to share some photos from the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sarajevo. Click on any photo to see it larger.

It’s a lovely city.

013People hike in the surrounding mountains and ski in the winter. The 1984 Winter Olympics were held here. Unfortunately, the city’s location in a valley made it fairly easy to besiege, and during the war the city was under siege for nearly four years. You can see one of the consequences of that in this photo: all those graves, which are of people killed between 1992 and 1996. My guide told me that prior to the war, kids used to sled down that hill.

There’s a lot of history to be seen in Sarajevo, such as much more ancient graves. These predate the the Ottoman Empire:


There’s the gorgeous old town (Baščaršija), which dates to the 15th century–the same time period as The Pillar. It includes this old covered market.

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There’s a fascinating mix of history and culture. Here’s a beautiful 16th century mosque and also the sephardic synagogue, which was originally built around the same time. Within a couple blocks of these buildings, you can also find Catholic and Orthodox churches.

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Sarajevo is full of quirky sites too. Here you can see a restaurant I spotted, as well as a game of giant chess (people bet on them!), and a “memorial” to the canned food given by humanitarian agencies during the war (it was awful stuff).

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Other reminders of the war are everywhere, like on this building.


This house is now the War Tunnel Museum. During the seige, the people of Sarajevo hand-dug a tunnel (about a kilometer long) so they could get access to food and supplies, and so they could get people safely out.


There are also memories in Sarajevo of older wars:


The food in Sarajevo is wonderful. Bosnian coffee (much like Turkish coffee) everywhere, of course. Here are a few local goodies: squid ink risotto, burek (phylo dough filled with meat or cheese), and baklava.

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Oh, how I do love burek! You’re supposed to eat ćevapi when you’re there–grilled meat–but I skipped it because I don’t eat mammals. Everyone says it’s delicious, though. It might be served with ajvar on the side–a delicious relish made from roasted red peppers.

I found folks in Sarajevo friendly and exceedingly patient with my rudimentary knowlege of the language. Thanks to my time in Croatia, I can manage a few useful phrases, but most people spoke excellent English anyway.

The only downside to Sarajevo was the cigarette smoke. Bosnians smoke a lot, even by European standards. But it’s a small price to pay in order to visit such an amazing place.

If you get a chance to visit Sarajevo, GO!

Why Bosnia?

My upcoming novella, The Pillar, is set in 15th century Bosnia (and now available for preorder!). I was inspired to write the story when I spent a few days in Bosnia & Herzegovina last November. Why Bosnia?

Well, the country is certainly beautiful enough and interesting enough to visit in any case. And the people are wonderful. Seriously–if you get a chance, go.

But I also have two sort of oblique ties to the country. One is my abiding affection for Bosnia’s neighbor, Croatia. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Zagreb twice and visit another couple of times. Bosnia shares a language with Croatia (more or less), and the nations’ histories have been closely entwined. Culturally, they have much in common, although there are some interesting differences too. For instance, Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries (including during the time period in which The Pillar takes place), and roughly half of Bosnians are Muslim. Croatians, however, are mostly Catholic, and that country seems to have had a greater influence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italians.

My other loose tie with Bosnia has to do with family legend. My grandfather was from Trieste, Italy, which is at the modern Slovenian and Croatian borders. His father, the story goes, was a member of the Archduke’s royal guard. Which Archduke, you ask? Well, this guy.


I like to think that on that day 100 years ago, my great-grandfather was not on duty. Maybe he was on vacation. I have no idea if he was even in Sarajevo for the visit, although this was the time period when he was a guard.

Franz Ferdinand had been warned that some people in Sarajevo were unhappy with him, but he went anyway. There wasn’t much security. Someone threw a bomb at his motorcade, injuring several people but not the Archduke. Franz continued on to the City Hall, where he gave a speech.


Beautiful building, isn’t it? It was nearly destroyed in the (recent) war, but was reopened in May of this year.

After the speech, Franz decided to visit the people who’d been wounded earlier. Under still light security, his driver took a wrong turn near the Latin Bridge.


That guy in the photo has his back to the bridge. Franz’s car was facing the camera. And Gavrilo Princip was waiting there with a gun. He shot and killed the Archduke and the Archduke’s wife. And although the political situation was actually very complicated, this assassination is credited as being a major factor in the start of World War I.

Princip, incidentally, was only 19. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but died less than 4 years later from tuberculosis.

I don’t know what happened to my great-grandfather. He’s a mysterious figure. I do know he never made it to the US. On the other hand, my grandfather, his mother, and his sisters came to New York not too long after WWI ended. My grandfather was still a boy.

When I stood on that street in Sarajevo last year, I couldn’t help but wonder if my relative had stood there too, almost exactly 100 years earlier. It was a weird feeling.

So, that’s why Bosnia. Over the next weeks I’ll post more photos of this fascinating place.


History shmistory?

They say that historical romances don’t sell well. Contemporaries sell well. Paranormals with shifters. Even fantasies. But historicals? they say. Meh.

I don’t understand why. I love history. Truly love it. And isn’t it even more fun to imagine the way human relationships–including same-sex relationships–might have played out in different times and different places? Well, I think so.

Plus, writing historicals means the added bonus of having to do all sorts of juicy research. Like for my newest novella, The Pillar, which is available now for preorder (it releases August 13). It’s set in 15th century Bosnia.thepillar_final01 (1)

Some of the research I did was first-hand: I visited Bosnia. In the coming weeks I’ll post some pics from that trip (or you can look through my blog archives in November 2013). I spent a few days in Sarajevo and Mostar. It’s a beautiful country with friendly people, a touch of exoticism, and an amazing–sometimes tragic–history.

That trip inspired The Pillar, but once I began writing I still had plenty of research to do. Some of it was just a wee bit challenging, like finding out the approximate cost of a healthy male slave in Bosnia in the 15th century. Some research was easier, however, such as when I needed to know about the clothing people wore back then.

I’m hoping the unusual setting of this novella will intrigue readers. And I also hope that once people begin to read, they’ll remember that people are people and love is love, whenever and wherever we are.