“Zipper Fall” release party #7: And what of the dead body?

September 22, 2013

The party is winding to a close, folks. I am so glad you could stop by. This is the next to last post. We still have an autographed book to give away, so if you want your name in the pot, post a reply either here on www.dreamspinnerpress.com/blog, or on Facebook. Don’t forget, the 25% off code is good on my titles and Dreamspinner Press mystery/suspense titles through Monday!

And now about the dead body. The blurb reveals that Jack’s sister, Celia, died under suspicious circumstances. You all know that Wyatt is a climber – that’s one way to break into other people’s space. It turns out that Celia was a climber, too. A very good climber, in fact. Isn’t it ironic that I fell in love with a female character in a m/m novel, and all I have of her is a memory? She never appears – her death took place several months prior to the plot. Yet, she was so much fun! Strong, determined, adventurous. If she was anything like her brother, she was a good-looking, athletic woman. She also wasn’t stupid, being an accountant and a writer, and she had honor and courage and integrity. We need more characters like that – and not only the gorgeous guys we love to read about, the men who fall in love with one another and, despite their flaws, experience true love and devotion and the security of knowing that they have found their place in the world.

I want female characters as good as the guys! I want to love them, and cheer for them, and admire them. What a shame that I had to kill her. Isn’t it just so ironic? Yet, I admit that writing a strong female lead is hard work. There are all kinds of tropes out there, and it’s too easy to fall into a stereotype regardless of genre. Authors end up messing up perfectly awesome female leads in both romance and thrillers. It’s too easy to slip into that well-worn and accepted mold of what we believe a woman should be, or is capable of being. And that, my friends, is exactly why I love writing male couples. When it comes to two guys, they start with the same set of social expectations, even regardless of class. There is no mother who awaits grandchildren. Nobody tells a guy, “You really shouldn’t pursue a PhD in geology, because you have a baby and how will you be flying to Hawaii to take lava samples all the time?” (That’s what happened to me, although it might have been for the better.) Men don’t get pregnant, so there is a whole new freedom associated with casual sex. Even though I acknowledge that men have their own pressures and have to live up to a different set of expectations, this child-related gender stress is the same for both of them. It is this equality of expectations that makes a same-sex, male couple a blank canvas for many a story of love, romance and high adventure. I try not to make my guys stereotypes, either, but I freely admit that when I write, despite all the research I do, I sit alone in a room and make things up. It’s a fantasy. Perhaps I live vicariously through Kai in Wild Horsed, because he is a natural rider with a cat-like balance who attracts equine attention with his soft, perceptive manner. I will never be like Kai. Why, only today I fed my finger to a horse, let him step on my foot, and the SOB almost unseated me when he refused an obstacle. Kai is my equestrian fantasy. If he were a girl, it would get a lot more complicated once the issue of birth control came about.

Wyatt climbs rocks like a lizard. He is fearless – in fact, he lives in a perpetual search of a good adrenaline high. I am scared of heights and the best I can hope for is a good wall with secure equipment. In addition, he’s as kinky as a tangled fishing line. I, a risk-averse and unathletic plodder, live through Wyatt’s grace and carefree comfort no matter how high off the ground he might be. He lets me fantasize about the edges of my own comfort zone.

Sometime soon, my own comfort zone will extend to tackling the pervasive gender issues that all women deal with as they navigate career realities and lifestyle choices. I will find Kai’s balance and Wyatt’s courage, and create a female character that is both credible and kick-ass. She will be a CIA agent, but she will live off her smarts and cunning, not through any special-forces skills. She will be like us, knowing that her clock will soon start ticking.

Until then, I’ll hang out with my pretty boys, and I hope you will, too. Let me know what you find alluring about m/m fiction that ‘s missing from a decent read with a female protagonist! Please drop me a line on that. I will log on again at 11pm EST, put your names in a hat, and one of you will get an autographed copy of Zipper Fall (or Wild Horses, your choice). I will give this book away to honor Celia, the cool, tough broad I have created who died before her time.

“Zipper Fall” release party – a book giveaway winner!

September 22, 2013

Aaaaand – drum roll, please – Trix is the winner of either Wild Horses or Zipper Fall e-book! Trix, please PM me and let me know what you’d like, and how you’d like it! Congratulations!

And now, a bit about book research. Let me list a few things I’ve done either by coincidence or in order to “learn a world” and write about it – and then I’d like you to share the most outlandish thing you would consider doing, or have done, in name of book research. So, here goes:

- climbed rock walls (very…ehm… EXCITING.)
- learned to ride a horse (and today, got stepped on, scraped against the wall, and have accidentally fed him a finger along with a carrot. That foot will bruise, for sure.)
- learned to hunt deer
- various martial arts, including weapons moderns and ancient
- worked in a flower shop (it’s not just arranging flowers – it’s also washing buckets and dealing with the generous public)
- started a business / killed a business / grew a business
- traveled (I rout my business travel through new places in name of reserach, whenever possible)
- trained for a triathlon (and completed two – highly recommended, it doesn’t include heights and you can break when biking downhill…)
- “volunteered” in a restaurant kitchen (free labor in exchange for learning new things)
- ate wild mushrooms (and foraged for them, learned to ID them, and discussed possible lethal methods with an interested toxicologist)
- contacted professors at universities to find out stuff (and they were, usually, happy to oblige!)
- had coffee with a retired CIA employee, who was very helpful in making my CIA operative credible and legal
- fought in medieval armor, AND slept in it (to see if it’s possible…)
- started fire with a bow drill, attempted to brain-tan deerhide (don’t try this at home, its very smelly!)
- shot a machine gun/rode in a tank / held gas mask drills (that’s in elementary school during the Cold War, in Europe, where we took civil defense seriously).

So, spill it. If you write, what was the wildest thing you ever actually did that made its way into your book? If you don’t write, what would you consider doing? I’ll go cook dinner, and before I sign off for the night, I’ll do a random drawing for a winner of a signed trade paperback copy of either Zipper Fall or Wild Horses for one of you who responded!

Don’t forget, buy any of my titles or any mystery/suspense from Dreamspinner Press at 25% off, using the code “PavelleBlog” !

“Zipper Fall” release party 5: What’s good for the gander is good for the other gander, too.

September 22, 2013

You might think Wyatt is the wild one and Jack is the voice of reason. Jack merely impersonates a rational adult, though. Now I know that picking locks in real life is a lot harder than in fiction, but I couldn’t resist! Watch Wyatt be a bad influence in this excerpt:

***

SATURDAY afternoon had come and gone, rolling into evening, and I still hadn’t heard from that infuriating, obstinate man. I didn’t want to go out, didn’t want to watch a movie or hang out online; I wanted Jack, and nothing else would do.
Pathetic.
“Hey, Wyatt.” Reyna called me later that night. “I got the most unusual phone call.”
“Yeah?” I was parading around my small apartment in a pair of black silk shorts and a ratty, light-blue T-shirt at least a size too large. With the phone stuck to my ear, I continued straightening up those odds-and-ends that tend to accumulate over a period of several days.
“Yeah. Azurri called. He wanted to ask some personal questions about you.”
“Oh yeah?” I perked up immediately. “Like what?”
“I can’t tell you that.” She giggled. “Oh, nothing harmful, don’t worry too much. It’s just, if I told him about you, he’d tell me about Auguste. They went to school together.”
My heart sank. “Reyna! Did you sell me out?”
“No, you pathetic goofball, I’m giving you a heads-up. Why’d he ask about you if he lost interest, right?”
We talked some more, me trying to pull critical information out of Reyna, her working hard not to let anything slip. She succeeded; I failed.
Resigned to my fate of earning my living through honest work, I poured myself a tall glass of beer, and once its head settled, I navigated it over to the coffee table, where I left my laptop. I settled on the sofa and got to work. The Novack proposal was beginning to look good. He wanted to target novelty seekers and the lunch crowd. For his crepes, he’d do best to advertise with the Francophiles in the area. Over the next two hours I compiled an exhaustive list of French teachers, as well as local schools and translation agencies, and I was about to get started
102 KATE PAVELLE on travel agencies when my ears picked up suspicious noises from my
front door.
Somebody was trying to pick my lock. That bastard.
Karma was out to get me in this life instead of the next. Payback was imminent. I tiptoed to the door, grabbed my old baseball bat off the coat rack, and listened to the burglar’s effort from the other side. I snickered—what a bumbler. Really, my locks were pretty average. I saw no need to draw attention to myself by indulging in high-tech security. A peek out my peephole didn’t show anything, since whoever was trying to burgle me was either bent over or kneeling on the floor. I was just about to call them on their incompetence and laugh in their face when I heard the tumblers align and fall in place, and the door swung open.
I jumped back, the baseball bat at the ready on my shoulder. I crouched behind the opened door, waiting to see who it was so I could whack them a good one for their trouble.
Tall, brown hair…. “Jack?” My voice rose, and he turned, startled.
His eyes widened at the sight of the weapon. Then I saw him relax and push the bat down with his long arm. “Hey, Gaudens. Should I also greet you with a baseball bat?”
I cleared my throat. “As I recall, you greeted me with a gun and tied me to a chair.”
“I guess turn-about is fair play.” He shrugged, sauntered over to the dining nook right off the kitchen, and set a brown paper bag on the table.
I shut the door behind him, turned the lock, and hung the baseball bat back in its place on the coat rack. “Why… why didn’t you call first?” Being fair-minded, I didn’t ask him why he didn’t knock.
“Why should I call?” he asked. “You never do.”
“Actually I always call before I break in, to make sure nobody’s there. Then I knock for good measure. That one time you were asleep. Your phone must have been turned off.”

“Zipper Fall” release party 4: A bit about Jack, Wyatt’s lust interest.

September 22, 2013

Trix and Katherine pinged back with writing tips, which is awesome, and I may try the headphones, especially when I am working on the treadmill desk, which is not nearly as quiet as when I bought it.

I’d like to introduce Jack Azzuri. He has his own tidy parcel of baggage to work through. The most apparent characteristic, aside from a body that must have been sculpted by the ancient Greeks (love handles and all), is his legendary, explosive temper. Wyatt never expected to meet him when he broke into his apartment. All this is laid out front-and-center in the first chapter, which you can read in the sample of DSP’s website. Here is a little detail of Wyatt’s first up-close encounter with the man who would haunt his thoughts forevermore:

***

ELEVEN o’clock could never come soon enough as the far-away wall safe kept crooning its siren song. I barely resisted biting my nails. My microwave clock showed I still had ten minutes to go before departure when, impatient, I pulled on my lightweight, dark green jacket and a baseball cap, hoisted my black backpack, and headed out the door. I walked, using the next twenty minutes to calm down and control my adrenaline levels. I still could back out. I didn’t have to go through with it. The idea died young: it was like paying the entry fee to a public swimming pool and then talking myself out of getting into the water. There was no way I wasn’t getting inside that apartment tonight.

Two blocks away from Azurri’s apartment, I ducked inside an entryway and stuffed my jacket and baseball cap inside the bag. I caught my hair up in my black skullcap, hiding every single strand by feel alone. The black hood of my sweatshirt covered my head as I continued to my target area.
The windows in the corner of the third floor were dark. I dialed the number on my cell phone anyway, but nobody picked up. I sucked in a deep breath.
Shit. I was really going in. I did my phone-check routine, making sure it was on vibrate and the camera flash was off. I also set it on redial, just in case someone was home and I had to distract them—even though that never happened. As a last step, I covered the phone’s screen with three strips of electrical tape. That way, if I had to use it in the dark, I wouldn’t make a target out of myself.
The service entrance in the alley wasn’t equipped with an alarm, and the lock wasn’t hard. Somebody must have miscalculated, thinking there was no point protecting a self-closing door next to a Dumpster. I slipped in like a shadow and took the service elevator all the way up. There was a narrow staircase from the fifth floor to the roof. I took it to an unlocked door. It creaked only a little as I pushed it open, but even that little sound almost made my heart stop. I scanned the flat, asphalt roof and the vents and chimneys to my left. The edge of the roof was to my right. Working fast, I reached inside my backpack and slipped a climbing harness over my black cargo fatigues. I slid my silenced phone into a secure side pocket. The other pocket held my flashlight. I pulled a coil of climbing rope out of the backpack and fastened it to a sturdy chimney. Before I knew it, my feet were anchored on the rim of the ledge and, with the rope wound behind my butt and through my self-belay device, I leaned back over the abyss.

I grinned as the thrill of being suspended over a street threatened to overcome my senses— alone in the dark, unseen. Slowly, I slipped my soft black shoes down the side of the building in careful steps as I fed extra rope through my harness. The soles of my feet felt every contour of the vines and flowers carved into the acid-rain roughened stone, giving me extra purchase. I descended past the glowing fifth- floor window and the dark fourth-floor window, and I had just started to breathe a bit harder when, finally, the third-floor window appeared. I stood on the generous parapet and unclipped myself and let the rope hang by my side. Slowly, I pushed in the glass panes.
Lights from the streets illuminated the Spartan bedroom interior as I slipped in, landing in a crouch. The white carpet gleamed pale amber, reflecting the sodium lamps outside. I look around and froze.
The bed was occupied.

At this point, I should have climbed out the window and back up the building and gotten out of there. Yet I stood here, conflicted between running away and getting a little closer. The bed’s owner was sprawled naked on his back, his head and shoulders shrouded by the shadows. The stark city glow, barely impeded by sheer curtains, accentuated the shady contours of his trim abdomen and his well- muscled legs. I stopped in my tracks, feeling as though a Grecian marble statue from a nearby museum had been placed on this stranger’s bed, displayed for my eyes to feast upon. He was incredible, beautiful in the unearthly glow, and I felt like a lost man, captivated by the sight of his physical beauty. Even if I weren’t into guys, I think I would have gotten hard.
He stirred. I broke from my stunned reverie and looked around fast. The dark corner of the room to my left was my only hope, and then I realized a closet was there, with its door cracked open. I ducked into the shadows, moving fast. I blessed my luck and slipped inside, not making a sound. My breathing came in short, shallow breaths, and my heartbeat felt like a drum against the wall of my chest. I fought to maintain absolute silence. I heard Jack Azurri stir. His bed creaked. Then there was the soft patter of his feet, almost muffled by his lush carpet.
I hope he won’t kill me on sight.

::I swear I’ll never do this again.::

I heard him piss in the bathroom next to me, and I breathed a deep, silent sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to voice any rash oaths just yet.
He flushed and washed his hands.
More footsteps, this time in my direction. Once again I began to negotiate with the powers that be.
“Fuck, it’s hot.” The low, sexy growl shot an arrow of heat down my spine.
I heard him draw the curtains aside and open the window even wider. The heavy evening air stirred, and even more light poured in from the street.
My heart sang in relief.
The mattress creaked as he got back in bed. So far so good. I’d have to wait until he was asleep before I could make my exit out the window, which he, being such a considerate gentleman, had opened even wider for my convenience. I didn’t dare attempt cracking the safe with him there. In fact, I barely dared to breathe. I waited, wondering why the hell he wasn’t on a vacation like he should have been.
Light snoring reached my ears, and I pushed the closet door to the side a little more, just enough to get out comfortably. With painful slowness I peeked around the wooden panel.
There he was, now fully lit by the dramatic glow from outside, legs spread apart, sporting a significant boner. You would think I would be no stranger to that part of male anatomy, but being single, it had been a while since I had seen a full-grown specimen. Also, I had never seen one from someone’s closet while hiding in there, trying to avoid detection. This situation had all levels of awkward written all over it, and as my mouth went dry, I felt a hot blush rise up to my cheeks. All the same, I wasn’t quite willing to look away.

***

Oh Wyatt… you have no couth! I do have couth, though. I even have a discount coupon. Use the “PavelleBlog” discount code to receive 25% off any of my titles, as well as any mystery-suspense titles from Dreamspinner Press. This coupon is good for the next 2 days!
Drop me a line and visit so I can enter your name in a free e-book drawing (Zipper Fall or Wild horses, your choice!)

“Zipper Fall” release party 3: A bit about writing.

September 22, 2013

I get asked about how I write. People who ask me about writing don’t realize that writing is, mostly, about not procrastinating. Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, WordPress, Tumblr, plus any excuse for online research, can send me off course and into the time-sink of browsing to “see who is there.” On a typical day, I wake up at 5:45, respond to email, clear the dishwasher while the coffee is brewing, fix lunches, and put up a load of laundry. Once I walk my daughter to the bus stop and take the dog around the neighborhood, I am ready to write. In order to do that, I push the power button on our WiFi antenna. Yes, I really do. It keeps my word count up and my needless visits to “see who is there” down to zero.

I am an Organic Writer, which means that creating an outline is a sure way to lose interest in the story. After all, I already know what happened, right? So, why bother writing it out? Sometimes, when I am plagued by distracting and unrelated story lines that pop into my mind, I outline them. It’s the surest way to banish them forever. I have the WiFi turned off for 4 hours in the morning, which usually results in 3-5 thousand words. I take a break every 45 minutes to an hour (switch the laundry, water the plants, feed the koi) to move my body around. After lunch, my writing time will be over for the day, and I’ll need to apply myself to business activities that keep the lights on and the WiFi service turned on. In general, I feel very blessed to be able to do this.

And now, I have a question for you. If you do write, what is your favorite trick to keep distractions to a minimum? Respond, and I’ll enter your name into a drawing for a free copy of Wild Horses or Zipper Fall (Your choice!)

Party’s ON! “Zipper Fall” release blogfest Sunday, Sept 22nd!

September 22, 2013

I am online and blogging about Zipper Fall, the 2nd book of the Steel City Series. It can be read as a stand-alone, but if you read the no. 1 book of the series, Wild Horses, you will recognize several characters and landmarks.
I’ve been asked if I climb. Wyatt Gaudens, my POV character, is a climber who misuses his skills for burglary. I do climb a bit, and I was inspired to try it to get over my fear of heights (my wild, adventuring characters do all kinds of things I’d love to be able to do – I live through them vicariously!). I can climb up a wall and rapell down, and I love to boulder when outside. Wyatt is a natural where I am a struggling coward. So now some of you will ask, wait, do you also pick locks?
I tried, using lock picks I bought online. It’s hard, but doable. I watched people pick locks and crack safes, and both activities require patience, a steady hand, and a special touch that seems to come to some people naturally. I’ve never picked a lock that didn’t belong to me, although I’d lie if I claimed that no locks were harmed in the making of this book ;-)

To get more familiar with Wyatt’s mindset, I am going to share a brief excerpt. Our poor, flawed, adrenaline-addicted hero just needs a better source of excitement in his life:

***

Life can be incredibly boring at times, and in order to make it worth living, I need a bit of zing to spice up my dull routine. I’ve always been like that, and besides, I have always been able to talk my way out of anything. My mother used to say I’d make her go prematurely gray with my wild skateboarding antics. After a while, skateboarding wasn’t enough, and I started rock climbing. Small risks turned to bigger risks, except I didn’t want to endanger my climbing buddies by doing something really crazy on the rock face. Instead, I discovered the thrill of occasional and strictly recreational break-ins. Two years ago, I took my first souvenir. I knew it would be missed, which made the experience even more thrilling. Heightening the risk heightened the excitement. Last year, I wore a distinctive ring for a few days. I got away with it, which was almost disappointing, because it was a Superbowl ring. I ended up wiping my prints off and sending it to the local TV station, and its return made the news because anything having to do with the Steelers makes the news. I rode that high for almost a whole month.

***

I have a question for you: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in search of YOUR adrenaline high? Log in to www.dreamspinner.com/blog so I can see your answer!

“Zipper Fall” release party from noon till dinner EST!

September 22, 2013

Hi everyone, Kate Pavelle here. I hope you can stop by for a launch party for “Zipper Fall,” the 2nd book in the Steel City Series. I’ll be online from noon till dinner today, and will check in after dinner for a bit. There will be excerpts, give-aways, and questions both asked and answered! This is a new thing for me.
I hope you can stop by! Just use the following address: http://blog.dreamspinnerpress.com/blog
See in after lunch!
Kate

Zipper Fall cover

Tin Box release party post 5–another giveaway!

September 20, 2013

This is my last post here today, and I’m going to do a giveaway. I’m also doing a giveaway at my blog, so make sure and check in over there too.

Thanks so much for visiting with me today! That lovely cover is by Anne Cain, by the way. She does amazing work.

One thing I really enjoy about writing is naming people and places. In my new novel The Tin Box, I had to come up with a name for a fictional gay bar in Fresno, California.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with California—except what you see in movies—let me explain that Fresno is definitely not LA. It’s definitely not San Francisco either. It’s a good-sized city in the middle of the Central Valley and it’s not very… glamorous. (It’s not the least glamorous place in California, however. I think Bakersfield deserves that honor.) It’s full of strip malls and it’s stuck in the middle of farms and ranches. It’s what Grapes of Wrath territory has turned into in the 21st century. The summers are hot. The air quality sucks. Although it’s conveniently close to the Sierras, I doubt Fresno is much of a vacation destination.

But Fresno is also the nearest large city to my fictional town of Jelley’s Valley. So when Colby decides to take William to William’s very first gay bar, it’s off to Fresno they go. And I needed a name for the bar.

After considerable thought, I came up with the perfect name: The Stockyard. It was such a perfect name that I Googled to make sure it didn’t exist in reality. It doesn’t—although 100 miles north, Modesto has a gay bar called The Brave Bull. So it’s at The Stockyard where William gets his first experience at being publicly out. And later, it’s where he reaches an important epiphany.

Want a chance to win an e-copy of The Tin Box? Comment below with an answer to this question. Make sure you include your email address. I’ll randomly choose a winner at noon PDT tomorrow, September 21. The question: What is the best or most clever business name you’ve heard of? Or, if you can’t think of an answer to that, if you had to name a gay bar, what would you call it?

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Kim

The Tin Box by Kim Fielding, available now:

William Lyon’s past forced him to become someone he isn’t. Conflicted and unable to maintain the charade, he separates from his wife and takes a job as caretaker at a former mental hospital. Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum was the largest mental hospital in California for well over a century, but it now stands empty. William thinks the decrepit institution is the perfect place to finish his dissertation and wait for his divorce to become final. In town, William meets Colby Anderson, who minds the local store and post office. Unlike William, Colby is cute, upbeat, and flamboyantly out. Although initially put off by Colby’s mannerisms, William comes to value their new friendship, and even accepts Colby’s offer to ease him into the world of gay sex.

William’s self-image begins to change when he discovers a tin box, hidden in an asylum wall since the 1940s. It contains letters secretly written by Bill, a patient who was sent to the asylum for being homosexual. The letters hit close to home, and William comes to care about Bill and his fate. With Colby’s help, he hopes the words written seventy years ago will give him courage to be his true self.

Tin Box release party post 4

September 20, 2013

My new novel, The Tin Box, takes place in a former mental hospital. The specific hospital in the story is fictional, but it was inspired by a real place—the Insane Asylum of California at Stockton. The Stockton facility was the first in California, and it was built in part to treat mentally ill people who came to California as part of the gold rush. It was the largest mental hospital in California, and before it closed in 1996, tens of thousands of people were treated there. Thousands died there.

Here’s what one of the main buildings looks like today:

It’s a pretty building on a pretty campus, but the history of the place is tragic.

If you want to learn more about the Stockton center, about the history of “treating” mental illness, or the history of considering homosexuality to be a mental disorder, I’ll be blogging about those topics on my blog over the next couple of weeks.

And if you want to see some amazing photos of former mental hospitals and other facilities, check out Matthew Christopher’s work.

I’ve been in that building in the picture almost by myself, late at night on a foggy November night. The corridors are long. Some of the windows still have bars. The empty courtyards seem haunted by the ghosts of the people who once spent endless hours, days, and years there. But it’s not so much a scary place as a sad one.

Now, on a lighter note, I did once experience something a little frightening there. When the building was in the midst of being renovated into classrooms for a university, a few of us were given a tour. We walked into the morgue, which hadn’t yet been changed at all—and the door slammed shut, locking us all inside. Oh, what could be more fun than standing with a group of adults—including a police chief—in an asylum morgue, each of us pretending we weren’t a little spooked?

In The Tin Box, William does not get locked in the morgue, nor are there any ghosts. Nevertheless, one of those long-ago patients changes William’s life.

What is the scariest or most ridiculous situation in which you’ve ever found yourself?

Tin Box release party post 3

September 20, 2013

(There’s a giveaway at the end of this post. And photos, including some slightly nonworksafe pastries.)

If you’ve read any of my stories, you may have noticed a recurring theme: travel. A whole lot of my characters spend a whole lot of their time going from one place to another. Brute, for example, goes first to the capital city Tellomer, and later to the Vale. In my Ennek trilogy, Ennek and Miner sail far away—and then back home. Of course, in Venetian Masks, Jeff goes to Venice as well as Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Trieste.

So it’s probably not a huge surprise that I have itchy feet. One of my very favorite things is to pack up and go someplace else. It can be someplace near—this month I’ve been to LA, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon—or somewhere far. Next month I’m off to Warsaw and Zagreb with a side trip to Sarajevo.

I love people watching when I travel, and eavesdropping on conversation (a bit more challenging when I don’t speak the language!). And I especially love those small moments of serendipity when I discover something unexpected and delightful or quirky.

A couple years ago, my 11-year-old daughter and I lived in Zagreb for half a year. One afternoon we were walking near one of the city’s big parks when we came across a group of college-age guys playing American football, complete with jerseys and pads. Not the usual sight on a continent where football means soccer, so we stood to watch for a little while. The game ended. And the boys proceeded to strip down to their briefs right then and there in the middle of the park. My daughter was slightly scandalized. I was disappointed when they put their jeans and T-shirts on.

San Francisco is a great city for unexpected surprises (many of which involve nudity). I once saw a woman in Elizabethan costume walking down the sidewalk alongside a person in an elephant costume—in the middle of the day, nowhere near October.

Here are a few fun discoveries from my European travels.

An antique motorcycle in Barcelona. That’s me in the side car and my daughter on the bike. We rode all over the city for hours and had a wonderful time.

A fig tree growing over a church doorway in Venice.

That ship came around the corner just as I pressed the camera button in Dubrovnik.

This incredibly bored cop is providing legally-mandated security to a Jewish prayer group in Vienna. The prayer group meets in a 14th century monastery. I wonder who he’s talking to on the phone?

A double rainbow viewed from my Zagreb flat. Apparently the pot of gold lies somewhere in the middle of socialist-era apartments.

An umbrella vending machine (multilingual!) in Opatija, Croatia. It was pouring that day and I totally would have bought one, but the machine was sold out.

Graffiti in Graz, Austria (Spike approves).

Pastries at LeGay bakery (owned by the LeGay brothers–really) in Paris. Yes, I bought a brioche and it was delicious.

Spike looks a little overwhelmed.

In my new novel, The Tin Box, William also makes a journey. His is short in distance—the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra foothills. But it’s a long journey nonetheless, as William learns to be his true self.

Time for a giveaway! (I’ll do a second giveaway later. And there’s also one going on at my blog).

What is the best journey you’ve made? Or what is your dream journey? Comment below and include your email. I’ll randomly choose one winner, who will get a $10 Dreamspinner gift certificate and a $10 donation to the LGBT charity of your choice. I’ll pick the winner September 21 at noon PDT.