TNA: Hi, Zee, welcome to The Novel Approach, we’re so glad to have you here today. Why don’t we start off the Q&A by having you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Zee: Hello! Thanks so much for having me by! This is my first time promoting a novel, so I’m excited to be here.
Though Finally Home is my first published novel, I’ve been a writer my whole life. I’ve penned and published a range of things under a variety of names—short stories, screenplays, comic books, magazine articles, blog posts, fan fiction, bad goth poetry—you name it. What I keep coming back to, though, is erotica.
What began as a coming-of-age fascination (thank you, A. N. Roquelaure) became genuine passion when I signed up for an erotica class my first semester of my freshman year of college. Yes, I actually got college credit to read and study smut, and yes, my folks were mighty unhappy about it. I didn’t care, though. I was learning about the social, political, and personal effects of erotica and having a damn good time doing it, too! I’ve been writing sexy stories of one form or another ever since.
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your upcoming Dreamspinner release, Finally Home. Chris and Marco’s story started as a short called Krung Thep, City of Angels, in the anthology Two Tickets to Paradise. How did you settle on Bangkok, Thailand as the setting for Chris and Marco’s meeting? Have you been there, or is it a place you’d like to go someday?
Zee: In the summer of 2011, I spent two weeks in Thailand and Cambodia thanks to a friend who invited my husband and me along during his family’s annual vacation in Bangkok. Though I’d traveled to Mexico a few times as a child, that trip to Southeast Asia was my first adult trip abroad. I admit I was a little nervous to immerse myself in completely different customs, languages, and cuisines, especially since I didn’t know very much about the region.
I shouldn’t have worried. Yes, it was a bit of a culture shock at first, but what first struck me about Bangkok was how much it reminded me of the other big cities I’ve visited. There were the big billboards, the rushing traffic, and the familiar name-brands. Sure, the billboards were in Thai, the traffic was on the “wrong” side of the road, and the name-brands were mixed in with local favorites, but those little comforts were enough to put me at ease enough to enjoy the differences in culture.
A little bit of trivia about the title, Krung Thep, City of Angels, is that it’s part of Bangkok’s actual, Thai name, which translates fully to “city of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s behest.” Imagine having to write that on your return address!
TNA: Why do you think having Chris and Marco meet in a foreign country worked, and how did that play into the start of their romance? Do you think they have worked as well together if they’d met in the US first?
Zee: I believe that when you travel, you find your true self. You’re thrust outside of your comfort zone and stripped of most of the material possessions and people you use to form your identity. In doing so, you learn who you really are, but it can be an uncomfortable process.
In Krung Thep, Chris helped Marco through that discomfort, and guided him towards self-confidence as a traveler—and as a gay man. They saw each other as they really were, without the outside influences of family, hometown geography, or personal history.
They also shared a camaraderie as two Americans abroad, and then a little later, as two gay men. They became travel partners first, friends second, then lovers third. In Finally Home, they go even further into the uncharted territory of genuine relationship.
If they’d met in the US, I don’t think they would’ve connected on the same levels. Sure, perhaps they could have hit it off while sharing beignets in New Orleans or by taking in the monuments of Washington DC’s mall, but they wouldn’t have had that singular, shared experience of being the outsiders in a foreign land to bond them together in the first place.
TNA: What is it that you find most exciting about a vacation romance? Have you ever had one yourself?
Zee: Does vacationing with my husband count? Travel definitely ups the romance factor in our relationship!
Though I’ve never had a textbook “summer romance” like Chris and Marco have, I think the excitement of it lays in its transience. There’s a hard and fast deadline to the relationship, and knowing that makes every moment together count. There’s no time to fight or squabble. You’re also free from your everyday burdens of jobs and chores, so you’re as relaxed and happy as you’ll ever be. It’s an idealized situation, perfect for some bittersweet romance.
TNA: If you could bring Chris and Marco off the page and into the real world, which of them do you think you’d get along better with, and why?
Zee: That’s a tough question. At first glance, I’d say I’d probably get along better with Marco, because he reminds me the most of me—a suburban Southern California upbringing, a close-knit, multi-cultural family, and an interest in various forms of digital media. However, he’s a lot younger than me! Chris is closer to my age, so we’d have more relatable life experiences. I’d also LOVE to pick his brain about his food writing and the various countries he’s visited. In the end, I think it’d be Chris I’d ask to meet me for lunch, if only so he could introduce me to some amazing culinary adventures.
TNA: If we were to ask Chris and Marco, what would they say the love most about each other?
Zee: What Chris loves most about Marco is his zest for life. Marco grew up middle class, and thus never had the opportunities for international travel that Chris had with his wealthy family. Now that Marco’s an adult with his own money, he’s meeting the world with arms wide open (well, except for that coming out thing, they’re still working on that), and it reminds Chris of the passion he felt before time and experience made him a weary traveler.
What draws Marco to Chris is his confidence. Chris moves through the world as if he belongs everywhere, even when it’s obvious he doesn’t. Marco loves the sure gleam in his ice-blue eyes that says “adventure is afoot,” be it on the street, at the table, or between the sheets. It makes Marco feel like he can do anything (except come out to his family. Not just yet).
TNA: What do you have coming up next? Do you have any works-in-progress you’d like to share a little bit of info about with us?
Zee: Cheesy as it sounds, my current work-in-progress is my son. I became a mom while working on Finally Home (pregnancy was one heck of deadline!), and being a parent of an active toddler has cut my writing time down drastically.
That being said, I have a few ideas I’m working on, primarily a steamy ménage-a-trois story about a recently married gay couple that complicate—and heat up—their relationship when one of them decides he wants to know what the other’s life was like in the BDSM community before they met. It’s been a fun bit of escapism to write in the evenings!
TNA: Would you like to share an excerpt from Finally Home with us?
Zee: I’d love to! Here are Marco and Chris, shortly after they’ve—ehem—properly reconnected:
Blurb: Sequel to Krung Thep, City of Angels
The Traveler and the Tourist: Book Two
After one night in Bangkok turned into ten days trekking together, novice backpacker Marco and seasoned travel writer Chris parted ways thinking they’d never see each other again. Three months later, Marco still can’t forget the greatest adventure of his life—or the gorgeous guy he shared it with. Too afraid to come out to his family, Marco is suffocating in his suburban Southern California life, until Chris announces he’s coming to LA.
Chris has spent the past four years wandering alone, rebuilding himself from the ashes of a failed journalism career. He arrives in Los Angeles eager to eat, write, and resume the sexy, casual fun he had enjoyed with Marco. But when Chris finds his friend is a terrified closet-case at home, he’s determined to help Marco confront his fears.
Priorities change when Chris’s father suffers a stroke, and Chris rushes to New York City to face a harsh homecoming with the family he abandoned. When Marco defies his parents to be at Chris’s side, Chris begins to realize there may be more to their relationship than just work and play, and that Marco may be the one to show Chris what it means to finally be home.
Excerpt:“I could really go for a beer right now,” Chris murmured, idly stroking Marco’s curls.
“I’m sure there’s some in the minifridge,” Marco suggested from the crook of Chris’s arm.
Chris snorted lightly. “Yeah, and they’re twenty bucks each, I bet. No thanks.”
After all the oddness of the opulent hotel, it was strangely comforting to hear something so practical come out of Chris’s mouth. That was the Chris Marco knew, who could make a dollar—or baht, or pound, or peso—stretch and didn’t go for excess. Well, unless he counted the time Chris bribed the door guard at Baiyoke Tower so they could be alone. That had been so worth it.
“We could go out and get one in a bit. It’s still early. I’m sure we could find a bar nearby,” Marco said.
“Nah. I’m not going anywhere ’til tomorrow morning.” Chris squeezed Marco closer and planted a soft kiss on his forehead. “I got everything I want right here.”
Marco’s heart did a backflip in his chest, even as his stomach knotted underneath it. Reality was already encroaching in on their little bubble. As much as he wished their relationship could be just as relaxed as it had been in Thailand, things were going to be a little different while they were on Marco’s home turf.
“What time do you want to start tomorrow?” Marco asked, trying to broach the topic gently.
“Figured we’d take it easy, maybe sleep in a bit.” Chris gave Marco a mischievous grin. “Have a little morning sex, and then hit the food trucks in some of the closer neighborhoods.”
“Yeah. About that,” Marco said slowly. His face felt hot suddenly, and he pressed it against Chris’s side to hide it. “I can’t stay the night with you.”
“You got somewhere you need to be tomorrow morning?” Chris sounded slightly surprised, though unconcerned. “No worries. I’ve got this room for another couple of nights.”
Marco bit his lip. It didn’t make it any easier to know that Chris had booked this room exclusively as a love nest. Marco shifted so that he could meet Chris’s eyes, though as soon as he did, his gaze slid away.
“No. I mean, for your whole trip. Since my family doesn’t know about me yet….” Marco felt like a damn fool. He stayed out all night every now and again, but it was always to crash with friends his parents already knew. It would be too strange, too suspicious, if he suddenly spent the night with this new friend of his, especially in a hotel. “I mean, my mom, she waits up, and if I don’t come home, she’ll start asking questions, and I’m not ready to… to….” Marco trailed off. Chris had flown halfway across the continent, and Marco couldn’t even lie to his parents for a few days.
“And you’re not ready to tell them you’re seeing someone,” Chris finished quietly. “Or who you’re seeing.”
Marco nodded slowly. He was still wrapping his head around the concept of being gay, never mind the consequences of embracing it publicly.
Marco felt Chris’s fingers under his chin, pulling his face up to meet him.
“If you’re not ready, you’re not ready,” Chris said, shrugging nonchalantly. “It doesn’t change what we’ve got here.”
What do we have here? Marco caught the words in his throat before they could let loose.
Stay in the present, remember? Don’t ruin this with questions or expectations or hopes. Just enjoy it, before he’s gone again.
Marco pushed down the unhappy thought, nestling closer to Chris. He didn’t have to be home for hours yet. Maybe he could convince Chris to get dressed, go for a night walk on the beach, which was right across the street. Marco thought he might have a pair of trunks in his car. Maybe they could hit the pool, take advantage of this classy palace even if he wasn’t staying the night.
He couldn’t make himself move, however, couldn’t bear to pull away from the solid warmth of Chris’s flesh. So Marco laid there, listening to the hypnotic beat of Chris’s heart, ticking down the seconds before Chris was on a plane and out of his life, again.
TNA: Thanks so much for visiting, Zee, it’s been great chatting with you! Would you like to tell us where we can find you on the internet?
My blog tour is chugging along through September 12, and you can see a full list of stops on my blog.
The Giveaway: Zee Kensington is offering readers two ways to win books today.
THE COMMENT TO WIN PORTION OF THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
Your second entry option is via Rafflecopter, where you can enter to win an autographed print book bundle of both Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise.