— or how a terrible experience makes for a fun story.
Okay– so a couple of months ago, I wrote THIS POST. In this post I talk about being sent to stay in a nameless hotel in a sleepy seaside town that we shall from here on out call St. Aubrey’s. Shannon, DSP’s girl-Friday-genius was my escort, and we were following a GPS voice who kept saying, “Turn left on St. Truth-be-Well.”
Uhm, St. Truth-be-Well? We could see no such street.
Eventually we found this nameless hotel (which we shall NOT call it the actual name of the place, because, well, I WROTE about this hotel with another name, and I should like to not be sued) and in the meantime, we were tired and punch drunk and giggly about St. Truth-be-Well– because, honestly, it sounded like a damned funny name for a book.
Anyway, when I wrote that post, I was down in, uhm, St. Aubrey’s, for a con (which I thoroughly enjoyed, btw) and while we were there, we ate across the street at the FA Cafe. (Stands for Fucking Awesome. You can see something about it here and here.) Our waiter there was really pretty. So pretty that Elisabeth Staab, Damon Suede and I were all, well, writing him as we ate breakfast. Who was he? What kind of romantic life did he have? Which guy would we pair him up with.
And then, in the course of one of our panels, our moderator dropped half of a cockamamie plot in my lap and said, “Okay, you need to include this hotel, the ocean, and a guy with a bloody bump on his head– write!”
And since the guy we’d just been talking about over breakfast was fresh in my head, I spun a yarn about our waiter at the FA Cafe. I called him Dale.
Now, let’s flash forward a couple of months.
We’re in a hotel room in Chicago and Lynn West is there and so is Elizabeth North and so is Shannon, and we’re talking about what my next project should be. I was this close to finishing Christmas Kitsch, and I needed something for Elizabeth fast. I remember this because Shannon was cuddled up against me, and she said, “What about St. Truth-be-Well!”
And there I was, in front of a new audience, and suddenly our tale of that weekend spilled out– the terrifying hotel room, the cute waiter, the GPS that kept trying to tell us to go to a street that never appeared on the road when State Road 312 (say it out loud– you’ll see what happened) was right there. It made for a great story, and I thought, “Yes! This shall be my next story! It practically writes itself.”
But who was going to be my other hero?
Well, the next day we all went to a pub about a block away from the hotel, and we were greeted by the most adorable little leprechaun of a man. We started talking about how he would be perfect for Dale, and we told him who we were and asked him if he wanted to be in my next story. He said, “Yeah! Absolutely!” We said, “It’s gay romance, is that okay?” and he said, “What’s my name? Can I be Carson?”
I said, “That’s an awesome name!”
He said, “I used to love Johnny Carson when I was a kid!”
And I thought, “Aha! Carson shall be a comedian in his spare time!”
And he said, “What’s my last name going to be?”
And I said, “O’Shaughnessey!”
And he got very sober and said, “Really? My father– well, he passed away five years ago–but before that, he was dating a really awesome woman named O’Shaughnessey.”
He was perfect. And I was stunned. This story– it’s almost the anti-Amy. It’s fun, it’s quirky, and it was a joy to both live and write.
And it’s proof that hello, sometimes the gods actually write your stories for you.
I”m sort of excited, because this story has been reviewed and recced already–
Here at the USA Today blog
Here at The Tipsy Bibliophile (and the boys have their own cupcakes!!!!)
M/M Good Books
Here at The Armchair Reviewer (July 24th)
And tomorrow, it will be at the PRG.
It is already available here at Dreamspinner, and tomorrow it will be available at Amazon, All Romance e-books, Barnes & Nobles, and all of the usual places.
So if you’re interested, take a road trip with Carson and meet Dale– after taking a Left at St. Truth-be-Well!
Blurb and excerpt:
Carson O’Shaughnessy has one task: track down his boss’s flighty nephew, Stassy, and return the kid to Chicago. Then Carson can go back to waiting tables and being productively bitter about his life. He didn’t count on finding a dead body in Stassy’s bed, and he certainly didn’t count on the guy in the flip-flops and cutoffs at the local café helping him get to the bottom of the crime.
But Dale Arden is no ordinary surfing burnout—he’s actually a pretty sharp guy with a seductive voice and a bossy streak wider than the Florida panhandle. When he decides to boss Carson right into his bed, Carson realizes Stassy’s not the only one who’s been lost. Carson likes to think he’s got his life all figured out, that sex with guys is your basic broom-closet transaction; he may just have to revise his priorities, because nobody plans on taking a left at St. Truth-be-Well and finding love at the Bates Parrot Hotel.
The Bird Bates Hotel
WHO would do this? Who would drive from Chicago to Florida? What in the hell was wrong with him?
Carson Andrew O’Shaughnessy could not, for the life of him, figure that out.
He wasn’t even making this drive for love. Or for money. No. He was making this drive because his boss’s pip-weasel little fucktard of a nephew had completely dropped off the map. Please, Carson? I’ll give you two weeks’ pay! If you drive, I’ll give you three weeks’, so I don’t have to spring for the ticket! Carson waited tables, for sweet fuck’s sake! His salary was bupkes, but the fact that Carson being out of the picture would give the pretty blonde with the advantageous ta-tas all of Carson’s shifts?
For Ivan, that, apparently, was priceless.
Oh my God! He was such a doormat sometimes!
But the fact was, he sort of liked Stassy. Anastacio Malinowski, Ivan’s nephew, was blond with adorable dimples and a smile that could pretty much set the stars in their spheres. Unfortunately, Stassy tended to flash those dimples more at guys than girls. Seriously unfortunately, Stassy was, at present, not aware of this. Carson had never met a gay man more unaware of his own closet. Of course, Carson’s rather bold attempt to kiss Stassy might have been the reason he’d bolted in the first place.
Okay. So maybe Carson wasn’t just chasing Stassy down because Carson was a doormat. Maybe Carson was also chasing Stassy down because Carson felt maybe the teeniest bit guilty for taking Stassy’s flirting seriously. Carson had been with enough guys—and girls—to know whether someone’s signals were intentional. Stassy’s signals had seemed very, very straightforward. The innuendos, the raised eyebrows, the come-fuck-me eye-humping.
Then one night, after a rush in the restaurant, Stassy walked into a broom closet and Carson followed. Carson kissed the kid—adorable dimples and all—until Stassy ground up against his thigh, and for a whole forty-five seconds, Carson was pretty sure his long dry streak was over, and hey! He was gonna get laid!
And then Stassy put his hand over his mouth, and even in the dim light of the broom closet, Carson saw the glimmer of tears o’ angst. Stassy stammered, “I’m sorry. I’m so not ready for this!” and then ran out of the closet and off his shift and apparently?
To Bumfuck, Florida, population snowbirds and surfers, gayness optional.
Ivan had just said Stassy was on vacation, but as the weeks passed and Carson tried fruitlessly to get ahold of Stassy and apologize or claim complete ignorance or say something that would let Stassy off the hook of his sexual confusion, Carson came to believe the vacation thing was a total lie. He was pretty sure Stassy had just run the hell away.
When Ivan told Carson he’d been getting regular credit card bills from the Bates Parrot Hotel, Carson was a little relieved. That meant Stassy was okay, right? This place was in St. Aubrey’s, Florida—it was known for its surfing. How bad could the place be?
But Stassy had refused to come home, and when he went a day without returning Ivan’s calls, Carson allowed himself to be (easily) bullied to haul ass down in Ivan’s electric-blue Honda Element to retrieve Ivan’s wayward nephew.
Jesus. It had just been a kiss. And honestly, Stassy was pretty, but Carson usually liked his men a little more… well, a little more. Stassy was young and callow and not great with the conversation. All of those innuendos had been made with eyebrows alone.
But… well. Here he was. Wobbling through a bizarre mix of strip malls, suburbs, and backwoods neighborhood in the middle of the night, led on by his not-so-trusty GPS.
“Right on Saint Owbrays,” the GPS sang in clipped, soothing tones. “Left on Saint Truth Be Well.”
“Left on Saint What-the-Fuck?” Because he could figure out that Saint Owbrays meant St. Aubrey’s Street, but he could not see St. Truth-be-Well. He hit Refresh.
“Left on Saint Truth Be Well.”
“Oh fuck. I must have missed it.” He could see State Road 312 right there, but that other one—he seriously must have gone right on by.
It was okay. There was a McDonald’s and a Chevron, and he needed gas and coffee anyway. Time to stop and trade in his man card for some directions that came from a human being and a map.
He felt a slight chill in the air and a constant breeze as he walked from the car to the minimart, but compared to April in Chicago, it was damned near balmy. The Chevron was almost empty, and the bored girl behind the counter perked up when he walked in. He used the restroom first (and seriously? She couldn’t have used some of that sudoku time cleaning a little? Just for him?). When he came out to rent some more coffee, he asked for directions. “So, uhm,” he said, trying to remember he actually flirted for a living. “The Bates Parrot Hotel, where would it be?”
The girl wrinkled her nose, and Carson fought the impulse to go after the beauty of a whitehead on the tip of it. Unfortunate place for a blemish, really. “You’re going to stay there?”
Uh-oh. No one should ignore a warning from a local. “Not me in particular,” he hedged. “I’m looking for a friend.”
“Good,” she said with a nod. “Because the Super 8 across the street is really a much better bet. Not so close to the surf, right, but crossing the street ain’t no big deal. Anyway, you take this road, and go down ’til it dead-ends. Turn right. Ocean’s on your left. You’ll see the Bates Parrot place by the ocean. Sign’s sortova mess. But you’ll see the parrot. It’s all in green. And blue. And—”
“I hear you,” Carson interrupted with a hint of desperation. “I’ll see it. Blue and green parrot right next to the ocean. Don’t sleep there. Gotcha.”
The girl nodded, not bothered in the least by Carson’s internal and external twitching. “Good. You wanna refill on that coffee seeing as you finished it already? They’re free.”
Carson looked down at the thirty-two-ounce plastic travel mug in his shaking hands. God. Three days on the road. His stomach lining was probably translucent by now, and his eyeballs were starting to throb in time with his heartbeat.
“Sure,” he heard himself saying and jittered off to do just that.
STATE ROAD 312 was really dark, but she’d said turn right where it dead-ended, and that was no worries. In fact, for once the GPS and the local intel seemed to be jibing, which was a good thing. Streetlights? Apparently Florida didn’t need no stinking streetlights! In fact, the moon was down below the horizon, and Carson’s only hint of ocean was a certain matte blackness that was more foreboding than liberating. The ocean as devourer—didn’t that make the coffee shivers better!
And holy shit. There she was. The Bates Parrot Hotel. Carson suppressed another shudder. God, the locals had it right, didn’t they? This place did not look healthy. The lights, which were supposed to be strung around the fanciful fresco façade, were broken in a lot of places, and the parrot looked like a cross between a flower and a sailing ship. The hotel sat on the dunes themselves, and the damned sand had pretty much taken over the parking lot to the left.
That was okay. No one was trying to park there anyway.
Carson parked by the street, where, in better days, a fountain might have flourished. Now it was a car bay with oil stains on the pavement, and he eyed the hotel sourly as he killed the engine.
It was eleven thirty here. Didn’t that make it ten thirty back in Chi-town? Ivan would be up, wouldn’t he? Yeah.
“Did you make it there, you freaky little leprechaun?” Ivan had a broad Slavic face put together like square slabs of Spam. He did not appreciate Carson’s slight frame or his long oval of a pretty face, and he certainly did not appreciate Carson’s bright brown eyes and soul patch. In fact, Ivan had mostly made it known that nothing about Carson appealed to him except the regulars who kept coming in for Carson’s outstanding table-waiting schtick, and that’s why Carson still had a job.
“I, uhm. Hey, Ivan. You know, there’s a Super 8 across the street. I’ll bet it’s cheaper. How’s about I stay there tonight, and I can look for Stassy in the morning.”
Ivan grunted. “I made the reservation. I’ll lose my deposit. Don’t be a pussy.”
Carson suppressed a whine. “Ivan, just looking at this place gives me the crabs. C’mon, I’m doing you a solid. Don’t give me your solid waste.”
“Funny. You think you’re funny. Customers think you’re funny, you think you’re funny. You know who doesn’t think you’re funny? I’ll give you three guesses. You’ll only need one.”
Augh! Guilt. Son of a fucking bitch. Goddammit, Stassy, you couldn’t have had your crisis of sexuality at a Sheraton? “Fine. I’ll take my bag. I’ll go up. I’ll check in. If I see one bug, or a shred of wallpaper, or a vapor or a cold spot or zombie or—”
“What? What are you going to do?”
And here it was! The ace up Carson’s sleeve. “I’ll call Stassy’s parents and tell them you don’t know where he is. Yeah. I know the number. Stassy was staying there last month, and he called me from their phone. So there you go. If this place is half as bad as it looks from out here, you’re springing for the Super 8, and I can never know what the fuck a bedbug looks like.”
It wasn’t a grunt this time, it was a growl. “Okay. Fine. But you gotta give it a try first. I hate to lose that deposit. Especially since Stassy is staying there. It might be… what’s the word?Advantageous to have you be there in case he comes back. So you work on making things advantageous for me, you hear?”
“And if there’s bedbugs, zombies, or weird shit?”
Ivan’s sigh did not seem to indicate a disbelief in “weird shit,” so Carson thanked his lucky stars. Maybe there would be a raving full torso apparition in his room and he could go stay at the Super 8! It would be worth the years of therapy.
“Yeah. Weird shit and you can stay in the Super 8. Just find my freakin’ nephew before my sister finds out I lost him, okay?”
“Amen,” Carson said. He really did want to find Stassy.
THE inside of the hotel did not inspire confidence.
“Man, they weren’t kidding about Bates Parrot, were they?” He said it mostly to himself as he threaded his way through the gigantic birdcages and the loud squawking that filled the hotel lobby.
Well, that and the stench. Each brightly colored bird had his own pyramid-o-crap under his ass. Besides the big black beaks that could probably snap the fingers off a regular adult, that was another reason not to touch the cages. God knew what would happen if the pyramid-o-crap decided to crumble. Carson shuddered just thinking about it.
He got to the front counter and tried a bright smile at the colorless woman behind it. She had graying mouse-brown hair piled on top of her head, a round fleshy face, and shoulders that sloped inward to breasts that sloped down to her middle. Behind her blue eyes, though, there was sort of a sweet smile, and he played to that. Anyone who could smile in this zoo, that was someone he could charm, right?
“Heya there. I’m Carson O’Shaughnessy. My boss made my reservation?” He pulled his wallet out of the pocket of his jeans and started to pull out his driver’s license to prove he was who he said he was.
She blinked those faded eyes slowly, and behind him, one of the birds made a squawk that sounded like a car accident and a dying Cthulhu. Carson jumped, his wallet went flying, and he spent the next interminable ten seconds picking up scattered Jamba Juice club cards while a cacophony of twisted metal/tortured Cthulhu sounds erupted behind him. When he’d straightened, the woman—no nametag, which offended him greatly—was still looking at him mildly.
It was starting to give him the creeps.
“Uhm. Here.” He gave her his driver’s license. “Carson O’Shaughnessy. My boss is Ivan O’Leary. Uhm. Chicago.” Nada. “Reservations.”
With that she turned slowly to her computer and started pressing random buttons in an unhurried way. Behind him, the Cthulhu car wreck was bending metal at regular intervals, and he felt his palms break out in a sweat with every shriek. Goddammit, Stassy! It was a kiss in a broom closet! Nothing was worth this!
“Room 212,” she said between bird shrieks. “Round the corner, up the elevator, down the corridor, to the right. Overlooks the ocean.”
She handed him a computerized key card, and he took it numbly and tried to remember why he was there.
“Uhm, hey. Is that anywhere near room 113? Because my friend’s nephew was there for a while, and I was trying to find—”
“Right above it,” she said, and he looked at the numbers and felt like a dumbass. The hotel was in the shape of a big two-story L. It wasn’t that hard to figure out.
“Gotcha. Okay. Well. Uhm. Thank you. I’ll move my car to the parking lot—”
“Any available space,” she said, her voice uninflected.
“Good to know. Thank you. See you—” squawk “—around,” he finished weakly.
She reached under the counter and pulled out a little bowl of brown crumbly shit. Or something that looked like shit. “Do you want to feed the birds?” she asked, and he blinked.
“Not even if I knew they were gonna save my life someday,” he said truthfully and then turned around and fled toward his car.