In a continuing effort to entertain the visitors to my website that Google Analytics insists I’m getting, I have spent the better part of the last four days wracking my brain for something to put in a blog post.

What I got right now is that it’s hot. 95ºF in NYC today. I just turned on my AC for the first time this year. (I forgot that it takes a couple of hours before it really starts cooling the apartment, so I probably should have turned it on before I left for work. Instead, I have a hot apartment and a phenomenon I like to refer to as “droopy cat.” This mostly involves my feline roommate draping herself over furniture or else laying splayed out on the floor.) Summer in New York is something else. On the one hand, I work in an industry that slows down some in the summer, so I have more free time. On the other, it’s sticky and dirty and unpleasant at times. A woman from Florida worked in my office last summer and spent a great amount of time complaining about the heat. When I pointed out that she’d lived her whole life in, you know, Florida, where it is hot, she made the valid argument that everything in Florida has central air, and also you drive in an air-conditioned car to get there. I think my whole block was constructed before central air was even a spark in the eye of its inventor, and I do not own a car, so I was sympathetic.

On the plus side, some of the rose bushes I walked by today were really gorgeous. There’s a brownstone a block away from my office that has this massive rose bush with bright fuchsia blossoms. I would have taken a photo, but the owner was watering said rose bush, and that felt tacky.

Bad segue! Today, I listened to the podcast of last Friday’s Fresh Air (the NPR show). They did a tribute to Law & Order that consisted mostly of clips of Terry Gross’s interviews with the creator and various cast members. I haven’t watched the show in a while, but, as you know, I love police procedurals, and L&O in particular, so I’m sad the Original Flavor version was canceled after 20 years with so little fanfare.

One thing that stuck out, aside from clips of Jerry Orbach singing in a number of Broadway productions, was something S. Epatha Merkerson said. She plays Lt. Van Buren on the show. She said first that she was cast primarily because NBC was going to cancel the show if the producers didn’t put some women on it. And not even in the titillating sense; they just needed some female characters for balance. Merkerson said that, when she started on the show (in the early 90s), there were only 5 female police lieutenants in Manhattan. Something about that blew my mind a little. Merkerson said she met with a few of them to get some tips for how to play her character, and she went on to say that women had to change the way they behaved in front of certain groups of people and that they had to work hard to be taken seriously.

I like the idea of a straight-shooting female police officer as a character in a book. I have been tinkering with a sequel to In Hot Pursuit that’s not quite off the ground yet, but if I’m revisiting my gay cop character, and the novel will be set in New York, it might be an interesting opportunity to explore that through a character. (I’m just thinking aloud.) Deb Ruiz is kind of a prototype of that. I came to really love Ruiz while I was writing the novel; I like that she’s smart, capable, and doesn’t take shit from anybody. I am, generally, a fan of strong female characters in books, so it was fun to write her. (And to have an actually strong female cop. In a lot of novels I’ve read, “strong female characters,” especially those in law enforcement, tend to demonstrate their strength by, like, not being into fashion and cursing a lot. So often, they have mushy centers and crumble when the going gets tough. Not so Ruiz.

Well, the AC is chugging away and my living room is marginally less hot now. Plus, hey, blog post!

the inside reader + bonus books

Today I am The Inside Reader at Elisa Rolle’s blog.

my bookshelves are messyTo the left is a quick and dirty snapshot of two of the… uh… six? bookcases I have in my apartment. The book hoarding, it’s a disease. I totally will be the old lady you find out about who got crushed under the weight of all the stuff in her apartment. Thank goodness for ebooks; owning an ereader has cut my paper book acquisition down to a small fraction of what it once was (although then the Brooklyn Public Library or the Housing Works Bookstore has a sale, and I have a tote bag full of new books, dammit).

I have a lot of books, is what I’m saying. I’ve read a lot, too, because I live a couple of blocks from the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, so they keep me in books even when my budget doesn’t allow for new ones. So narrowing the best/my favorites/my influences is a task that is well nigh impossible.

So IN ADDITION to the ones on my list, here are a few more books that didn’t make my cut but maybe should have.

A note first! I went through a few years in which I thought I was too good for romance novels, and only started reading them again a few years ago. A friend of mine loaned me a romance novel, then I had to spend 4 hours on a bus, so I read it. And was completely engrossed and entertained by the book. I had forgotten how much pleasure could be found in a book that, even while maybe not being the most erudite or groundbreaking, is just a fun read. A few months after that, I got a job as a proofreader at a law firm. After spending all day looking at contracts and newsletters, I wanted my recreational reading to be fun and easy, and romance novels filled that need pretty nicely. I’ve since moved on, job-wise, but I’ve been a regular romance reader ever since. As such, a lot of my favorite books of the last 3-4 years have probably been romances. And I would argue, actually, that the genre gets a lot of flak that is undeserved. Sure, there’s some crap, but there’s also some really fantastic writing and storytelling that goes unrecognized (or under-recognized?). So my shelves, and my list of favorite books, contain both more literary works and romance novels. So there.

I’m sticking with a mostly LGBT theme here. I have many, many other favorite books, too.

Whisting in the Dark by Tamara Allen. It pained me a little to leave this off the list. I’ve been fascinated by the 1920s for a long time, and as soon as I knew of the existence of an m/m romance that took place just after WWI, I bought it immediately. It’s a really lovely book, full of great period detail and interesting characters.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson. I love Winterson’s prose. It’s a moving book, about a lesbian growing up in a religious community.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. And speaking of bad girlhoods. This is a book that will stick with you for a while.

Taking Woodstock by Eliot Tiber. Maybe an odd choice. Here’s why, though: I saw the movie last summer with my mother, who is still a hippie on the inside. I am, apparently, the only one who liked the movie. Something about it really worked for me, I guess. I loved Liev Schreiber’s performance. I love that no special attention is paid to the fact that Eliot is gay, it’s just a fact of his life. I got home afterwards and Googled the movie, which is how I stumbled upon the book. The book… was not in any way what I expected. Though the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the second half of the book, it was the first part of the book that really surprised me. It’s a frank account of life for a gay man in New York City in the 60s. It’s flawed—the prose is straightforward and unadorned, it’s name-droppy, it’s peppered with too-good-to-be-true coincidences—but it’s interesting, too. (There is some explicit discussion of BDSM, fair warning.)

The real reason this book makes the list is that there was something about it I found inspiring. It indirectly was the catalyst for the novel I wrote during the last NaNoWriMo. I’ve long been interested in life in New York in the 70s—Jonathan Mahler’s Ladies and Gentleman, The Bronx is Burning is excellent, and also, I’m personally fascinated by how much the city has changed since I was a kid in the 80s, and I think the period of time between the late 60s and the mid-90s is key to understanding how cities ebb and flow and grow and decay (something that I am interested in)—and after reading Taking Woodstock, I started reading other first-hand accounts of various events of the 60s in New York, and that became my novel. (I’ll finish it some day. It is, in part, about a gay man who comes of age in Brooklyn in the 50s and 60s.) Incidentally, this and Stone Butch Blues both contain scenes during the Stonewall riots. And, having read a bunch of accounts of Stonewall, I guess I was surprised at how small the inn itself seemed when I walked by it recently, how nondescript Christopher Street is, even, in the middle-of-a-weekday sunlight in 2010.

Some other of my favorite books of all time include some classics like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. And, I know there are corners of the romance community that will disagree with me, but I much prefer the Bronte sisters to Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre remains a favorite book, one I’ve read probably ten times. (There’s something about a hero you can’t quite like. I wound up re-reading it last year or the year before when my book club read Wide Sargasso Sea, and, I have to say, Rochester gets some of the best lines in the book.) In maybe the same vain, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is still probably one of my favorite historical romances of all time. Louise Erdrich is also a favorite writer; of her books, Tales of Burning Love is probably my favorite. Pete Hammill’s novel Forever is wonderful; the premise is that the main character is immortal, as long as he does not leave the island of Manhattan, so he lives through 250 years of New York history. I unabashedly love Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I’ve read everything Jennifer Crusie has published (among which Faking It and Agnes and the Hit Man are probably my favorites). There are dozens of really great m/m authors I didn’t get to mention and many I’m sure I’m forgetting: K.A. Mitchell, Ethan Day, Charlie Cochrane, T.A. Chase, Astrid Amara, Lynn Lorenz, Alex Beecroft, J.L. Langley, and on and on and on. I could keep going. I have read many books.

what happens here?

In my continuing mission to figure out what to throw at this website, I put up a “Coming Soon” page that is… coming soon. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I will hopefully have news about what you can expect from me over the next year or so.

And speaking of said mission, you can use this post as an opportunity to tell me if there is anything you’d like to see on this here site. Blog post topics, information I’m not providing, feel free to tell me.

And now I have query letters to write!

mom’s day

Halloweeen ca. 1984

I went digging for a few old photos of my mother in honor of the holiday and came up with this one. It’s fitting in its way; every Halloween since forever, she’s dressed up as a witch. There was a box of old costumes that lived in our basement that had no fewer than 5 pointy hats in it at any given time.

My mom is also a writer, though she writes mostly non-fiction these days. My dad is a scientist. As far as following in parental footsteps, it could have gone either way; I did pretty well in my English classes in school, but I also excelled at math. Still, I became an editor and a writer, just like my mother. Because, as maybe you can guess from the photo, a part of me wanted to be her.

My mom was always trying to further our education. She has a keen interest in American history, so my brother and I got dragged around to reenactments and documentary screenings and war movies when we were kids. I probably got a better education in history from my mother than I did from school. In 10th grade, for example, I was assigned a paper on the Battle of Gettysburg, and I didn’t even have to go to the library because my mom had so many reference books on the Civil War.

Some branches of my mother’s family have been in the US since the late 1600s, which maybe explains the preoccupation with American history and genealogy. My mother told me at our early Mother’s Day dinner last night that her brother has been doing some research and discovered that we had an ancestor who’d been imprisoned at Andersonville, the worst of the Confederate prison camps during the Civil War. My brother and I both exclaimed “Wow, cool!” (And my brother’s fiancée, who was also having dinner with us, gave us a blank stare. Although, she and my brother have been together a long time, and he’s about to go back to school to get an advanced degree in history, so she’s kind of used to this.) My mom had a similar reaction, though; it’s one of those things… Andersonville was, by all accounts, a terrible place. The man who ruled over it was hanged for war crimes after the war ended. My ancestor, in fact, died a few weeks after being liberated. But my brother and I got kind of a giddy thrill to know that an ancestor of ours had been a part of this chapter in American history that we knew something about.

As an adult, when I read nonfiction, I read mostly history. (My brother recently loaned me David McCullough’s book on the Brooklyn Bridge, which is kind of a doorstopper, but I’m enjoying it so far.) I toy with writing historical fiction. I love to write (and read!) it, but a life spent with my mother makes me leery sometimes, terrified to get the details wrong. (Plus, the historical eras I’m interested in are not so universally appealing. I wrote a chapter of a novel that takes place during the Gilded Age and thought, “Geez, would anyone but me be even remotely interested in this?”)

Although the fact that I’m writing romance at all is maybe my little bit of rebellion. My mom was always reading these weighty, academic tomes (although I knew where she kept her secret stash of pulp sci fi novels) so I hid romance novels in my room when I read them as a teenager. One of the fun things about being an adult is that I don’t even bother to hide those anymore; most of my romance novels are in a bookcase in the hallway right next to the front door of my apartment. It’s like a sign that says, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

So there it is. Blame my mother.