Weird Research

I think I’ve confessed here before that one thing I love about writing is doing the background research.

Sometimes my reason for enjoying the research is obvious, such as the many times I’ve–tragically, I know–found myself needing to know something about men’s underwear. No, seriously. My husband’s a confirmed boxer-briefs-from-Target kind of guy, so if I want my guys to wear anything more exotic than that, I can’t rely on Hubby as an information resource. I’ve visited the Andrew Christian website enough times that their ads keep appearing on websites I visit. Again, tragic.

But not all my enjoyable research involves nearly-naked men. Sometimes I like the challenge of it. For my novella The Pillar, which will come out in August, I needed to know how much a male slave would have cost in 15th century Bosnia. I never found a definitive answer to that one. But I did find out the cost of a slave in Venice during the same timeframe, and I found out the name of the currency used in Bosnia  then, and I even was able to do a currency conversion to arrive at an approximation that’s close enough, I think.

So now I’m writing a story set in rural Oregon in the 1880s. I’m only about 5000 words in, but here are the things I’ve looked up so far:

  • How to load and shoot a shotgun from that era– I’m still searching for good info on this
  • What color would a wolf’s eyes glow in lantern light at night?
  • What were the most popular boy names in the USA circa 1860?
  • Were there possums in Oregon in the 1880s?– I vaguely remember hearing they were brought west during the Great Depression, and it turns out that’s true. So no possums in my story.
  • What year did the transcontinental railroad arrive in Portland?– 1883, in case you wondered too.
  • How would a horse be attached to a cart it was going to pull?– Because I know zilch about horses or wagons.
  • Where was a tony place to live in New York City in this era?– Fifth Avenue
  • What would a fairly wealthy young man have for breakfast in Paris in the 1880s?

Sometimes it’s a miracle I get any writing done at all!

Tease tease tease! Excerpt from Guarded.

I do like to tease. So I present to you a brief excerpt from Guarded, a novella that will be available (for free!) sometime this summer. I don’t have the release date yet. This will be part of the Goodreads M/M Romance group’s Love’s Landscapes event.

So for now I present to you the initial interaction between the main characters, Volos Perun and Prince Berhanu.

It doesn’t go well.


“Get up,” the king said. “Formalities aren’t wanted now.”

Volos rose. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

He kept his eyes trained carefully on the floor, but he could still feel the weight of the king’s gaze— not to mention that of the other man, Prince Berhanu. The prince always looked at him with contempt and disdain, but this afternoon he looked furious as well. Volos wondered what he had done to enrage him.

“What is your name?” the king asked. He didn’t sound angry, at least.

“Volos Perun, Your Maj—”

“And is it true that you speak Kozari fluently?”

Volos snapped his head up in surprise. “I… My father was…”

“Your father was Kozari, yes. I am aware of that. But do you speak the language?”

It had been Volos’s first tongue, and although he’d had little occasion to use it for some years, he still dreamed in Kozari. “Yes, Your Maj—”

“Good.” The king turned to Prince Berhanu. “He will accompany you.”

“No,” growled the prince. “I told you. I don’t need a nursemaid.” He stood with his hands on his hips, perhaps deliberately displaying his impressive musculature. He was a couple of inches shorter than Volos, but as well built.

“He’s not a nursemaid, he’s a guard. It’s not fitting for a prince to travel alone, not even under these circumstances. And it’s not safe. I won’t allow you to go unaccompanied.”

Any man but the prince would have been tried for treason for glaring at the king like that. “Fine,” Berhanu spat. “Give me a guard. But not him.”

“He can speak the language. His presence may ease your interactions with the Kozari.”

“I won’t spend days with that Kozari trash at my side!”

Volos had beaten men senseless for lesser insults. But now, he stood with his face carefully blank, pretending Berhanu’s words hadn’t pierced him like poisoned arrows.

The king had gray hair and a grizzled beard and was much slighter than his son, but when he stomped close to the prince, Berhanu took a step backward. King Tafari poked him in the chest. “This man is a citizen of Wedeyta. He was born here. His mother was from one of our prominent families. And he proved his loyalty during the war. He was a hero. I’m told he saved several dozen Wedey prisoners.”

A flash of sense memory: the reek of urine, shit, and sweat; the sounds of harsh breathing and terrified screams; the taste of blood. Volos hoped neither of the men saw him flinch.

Berhanu shook his head. “I don’t care if he saved half the damn country. I won’t go with him. Surely someone else speaks Kozari. One of our own people.”

King Tafari opened his mouth, then closed it. His shoulders slumped slightly as he gave his son a long look. He turned to face Volos. “My apologies. It seems your services will not be needed in this matter. You may leave.”

Ignoring the prince’s triumphant smile, Volos bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you.” He hoped that his failure to address the prince wasn’t taken as an unforgivable slight— but then, the prince hadn’t said a single word to him. Ever.

Motel. Pool. trivia

Sometimes when I write, I include little details that possibly nobody but me will ever notice. But they make me happy. Sometimes they help me understand a character better, sometimes they tie things together in ways that satisfy my slightly OCD-ish tendencies. Sometimes they just amuse me.

Here are three of them from Motel. Pool.  They’re a little spoilery, so you might want to skip this if you haven’t read the book.


Scroll down just a bit….


1. Jack in Motel. Pool. is related to Joseph, one of the main characters in Violet’s Present. Joseph was Jack’s uncle. Jack mentions him briefly to Tag at one point.

2. While Jack waits at the Jasper Motel, he thinks he hears a car crash. What he heard was the accident that killed Officer Mike Broderick several years earlier. (Jasper’s a strange place, where things like that can happen–like when Jack daydreams Tag.) Officer Broderick obliquely refers to that accident the first time he meets Tag.

3. About one-third of the way into the book, a character tells us how it’s going to end. But nobody pays any attention.

Did you notice any of these when you were reading?

4. It’s never mentioned in Brute, but when they were young, Lord Meliach had an unrequited crush on Gray. That helps explain his complicated and perhaps conflicted behavior toward Gray years later.

I like it when characters from different stories cross paths.

5. Jeff and Cleve from Venetian Masks make a cameo appearance in Pilgrimage.

6. Of course, Travis and Drew from Speechless meet the Bones guys, Dylan and Chris, in The Gig. And Travis and Drew will also make brief appearances in the third Bones book, Bone Dry. It’s due out this fall.


I’ve been thinking about this and I’d love to know your thoughts.

The other day, one of my daughters asked me a question: “Hey, Mom. If someone is a transgender woman who is attracted to other women, is she a lesbian?” And then the next day she asked, “Hey, Mom. If two bisexual girls are in a relationship with each other, is it a lesbian relationship?”

She wasn’t trying to be a smartass—they were honest questions. She’s at an age where sexual identities and relationship dynamics are becoming really important. I answered as best as I could.

But her questions got me thinking about labels.

One the one hand, why worry so much about what we call people? Labeling leads to stereotyping. It can place artificial limits on human beings. All of us are way too complicated to be summed up in a word or two. And when it comes to romantic relationships specifically, does it make any sense to classify them? What’s important is that people care for each other, right?

But. But I have degrees in psychology so I know that labeling seems to be an instinctive human trait. And labels can be empowering. They can be a source of pride and solidarity. Sometimes instead of dividing us, they can be a source of commonality, maybe even bringing us together with people who we might otherwise not notice. A label can even have profound legal consequences. For example, it matters in a lot of ways whether two people are domestic partners or spouses.

To what degree are you comfortable with labeling yourself and your relationships? What do you see as some of the risks and benefits? Do we try too hard to label people in our society? Does it make a difference when labels are self-imposed rather than placed on us by others?

Motel Pool locations 6: Route 66

I’ve been posting about some of the locations featured in my new novel, Motel. Pool. Today is the sixth and final stop: Route 66.

I’m not generally a huge fan of nostalgia, although I did own a ’55 Ford pickup (fire engine red!) until my second kid was born. And I have a special fondness for Route 66, maybe because it began in my birthdplace–Chicago–and ended in California, where I live now. Most of it’s gone now, replaced by interstate highways.

When Route 66 died, it left ghosts. Stretches of cracked, weed-choked asphalt. Abandoned gas stations, restaurants, and tourist traps. Entire towns gone to ruin.

Last year we took a family road trip to the Grand Canyon. Along the way we passed a former piece of Route 66. You could see where a motel and gas station had once stood, but all that was left were faded signs. I’m a little bit fascinated with abandoned places and the way they seem to reach out and promise you stories. This one reached out and gave me Jack Dayton, Tag Manning, and Motel. Pool. So, you know, I got my kicks.

I hope you do too.

Hop Against Homophobia & Transphobia
Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
I have two daughters–one is 14 and the other 11. They have their quirks. The older one can be incredibly lazy. Given her druthers, she’d spend all day in her bedroom, reading fanfic and texting with her friends. The younger one is a melodrama queen who can turn being forced to bathe and brush her teeth into a three-hour tragic opera. She’s also a picky eater who hates trying new foods. But they’re both bright and funny and creative. They adore reading and traveling, and they’re amazingly accepting of others. I love them.
What if one of them comes to me one of these days and says, “Hey, Mom. I’m gay [or bi or trans].” It wouldn’t change what an amazing person she is. It wouldn’t make her less lazy (or less melodramatic) or less smart or funny. It wouldn’t change the fact that the older one can spell better than I can (and I’m a university professor), or that the younger one can draw wonderfully detailed dragons (and I can barely do stick figures). Of course I wouldn’t love her one bit less.
How can any parent reject a child because the child is LGBTQ? I will never understand this. And yet some studies claim that half of all LGBTQ kids are rejected by their families. Many of these kids end up homeless. These kids are also more likely to attempt suicide, to abuse drugs, or to engage in risky sex.
I hope things are getting better. I hope we reach a point soon when no kid hesitates to reveal their sexual or gender orientation to their parents. Where, when parents find out their kids are LGBTQ, they can say the same kind of thing I’d say to mine: “I’m glad you shared that with me. I love you very much. You’re wonderful. I want you to have a happy life, full of love. Now go clean your room.”
For a chance to win an e-copy of my latest novel, Motel. Pool. plus a $10 donation to the LGBTQ organization of your choice, comment here. Make sure to include your email so I can contact you if you win. If 20 or more people comment, I’ll give away two books and donations. I’ll choose a winner at noon Pacific time on May 25.

Motel Pool locations 5: Zzyzx

I’m posting about some of the locations featured in my new novel, Motel. Pool. Today is the fifth stop: Zzyzx.

Yep, that’s a place. See?

It’s in the middle of the desert between Las Vegas and LA. I’d never heard of it until we drove by, and then of course this sign intrigued me.

I won’t bother retyping the story of Zzyzx here. You can read it on Wikipedia. And you can see some fantastic photos here. In Motel. Pool., Tag and Jack pay the place a visit and Tag has an epiphany there.

Zzyzx has an interesting history and the scenery is unique, but I’d love it just for the name alone. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a town called Beaverton, but I really like towns with weird, funny, or intriguing names. Mist, Drain, and Boring in Oregon. Wahoo, Nebraska. European places that are missing their vowels, like Krk (a Croatian island) or Trst (the Croatian name for the nearby Italian city of Trieste). Or those that threaten to sprain your tongue, like Ljubljana, Slovenia. And there’s apparently a place near Sacramento called Manlove.

What’s your favorite place name?

Motel Pool locations 4: Las Vegas

Motel. Pool. releases today! I’m really proud of this book and I hope you’ll give it a try. Also, let’s all admire Paul Richmond’s beautiful cover, shall we?


And guess what? Now through May 17, Motel. Pool. is 30% off at Dreamspinner! In fact, all my books are currently discounted, so it’s time to stock up!

I’ve been posting about some of the locations featured in my new novel, Motel. Pool. Today is the fourth stop: the Las Vegas.

I’m not a big fan of Vegas. It’s like a city built by Walt Disney’s evil twin. Still, even I have to admit it’s unique in all the world.

My husband loves the place. Of course, this is the same guy who taught our then 8-year-old to play Blackjack, claiming he was only helping her with her math skills.
When we visited Vegas last year, my daughters went on the rides atop the Stratosphere. Um, no thanks! The girls had a good time, though.

In case you were wondering, these rides are on a platform 900 feet high, and that third ride shoots you up to nearly 1100 feet. Nope. No way.

Nausea, gambling, and tackiness aside, what does Las Vegas have to offer? Well, a lot of stories. And I got to wondering about the people who stay at the residential motels–the places that rent by the week. What were they looking for when they came to Vegas?

Tag Manning ends up at one of those motels–right next to the Stratosphere, in fact. Vegas isn’t exactly known as a place to find salvation, though, and Tag’s going to face some major losses there too.

Motel Pool locations 3: Hoover Dam

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about some of the locations featured in my new novel, Motel. Pool. Today is the third stop: the Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam was built in the early 1930s. Take a look at this photo for a moment as you let that sink in.

The dam is damn enormous. And it was built well before computers and lasers and whatever other things modern engineers use to do their magic. Even through modern eyes, it’s damn impressive. (Okay. I’ll stop.)

It took a lot of people to build the dam, and although I suppose most of them were glad to find work during the Depression, it was a dangerous job.

I’m not too fond of heights, so just looking at the photos makes me a little dizzy. Also, that guy on the left looks like he’s in danger of losing his pants any second, and this doesn’t strike me as a good location for nudity. In all seriousness, though, it’s important to know that around 100 men lost their lives building the dam. They probably came from all over the US, hoping for decent wages, and I wonder what it must have been like for them to die so far from home. That thought helped inspire a scene in Motel. Pool., which takes place right here:

Nowadays, the dam’s a pretty safe place, I guess. Although my phone received this alert when we were literally atop the dam:

Does tend to make one uneasy, no?

In Motel. Pool., Tag stops at Hoover Dam on his way to Las Vegas. He gets more than a good view, though–while he’s at the dam, he makes a couple damn important discoveries. (Sorry. Can’t help it.)

Motel Pool locations 2: Grand Canyon

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about some of the locations featured in my new novel, Motel. Pool. Today is the second stop: the Grand Canyon.

Until last year, the only time I’d seen the Grand Canyon was from a jet airplane. It’s pretty impressive even from thousands of feet in the air, but when you stand at the rim, it’s breathtaking.

It’s astonishing to me to look out and realize all of that was sculpted by water, and that I’m seeing layers of minerals that were laid down while our ancestors were still single-celled creatures floating around in the ocean.
Of course, the sunsets at the Canyon are stunning.
And even when there’s mist and clouds, the Canyon is beautiful.
Heck, even the restaurants give you a view.
In Motel. Pool., Tag Manning runs from another bad decision in hopes of finding something worth living for. He comes to the Grand Canyon–he even has lunch at the restaurant in the photo above–but the stunning views fail to make his heart beat. But shortly after he leaves the park, as he drives down a dark highway, he discovers he’s not alone in his car. And then… well, then things get interesting.