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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hump day with Dreamspinner Press': Zee Kensington

Hello there! 
My name is Zee Kensington, and I’m thrilled to be stopping at Guys Like Romance, Too! as part of my blog tour for Finally Home. Thanks for having me here.
Though Finally Home isn’t a historical novel, there were definitely some recent historic events that shaped the path of the story, and I thought I’d share my process of weaving them into the narrative.

One of my characters, Chris Springer, is a travel writer, but he spent years working as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a bit of adrenaline junkie he thrived on the danger, but after one “bad day” rocked him to the core, he gave up journalism completely. Even after seven years, though, he’s still secretly drawn to stories of struggle—wanting to write about more powerful things than hostels and street food—but afraid he’ll fall back into his old, destructive patterns.

I had to find something to shake the shadows out of Chris. Finally Home was set immediately after its prequel short—Krung Thep, City of Angels—which took place in the summer of 2011. There was plenty of conflict going on in the world in 2011, but Finally Home was set in the US, specifically Los Angeles and New York. What could happen there that could really get under the skin of someone who used to work in a warzone?

The answer I needed was right under my nose: Occupy Wall Street. Living near San Francisco and Oakland, Occupy Wall Street was a near-daily presence in my life. There was occasional violence between the demonstrators and the police, unfortunately, and I realized that it was near impossible to find impartial information about it. Conventional news sources skewed their reporting in favor of the authorities, and the more independent ones painted the police as vicious aggressors. It made me wish for a reporter both skilled in journalism and removed enough from the politics to be neutral…someone like Chris.

Everything clicked from there. New York City was the nexus point of Occupy Wall Street, and saw its share of conflict in the autumn of 2011. It could be the catalyst Chris needed to get back on the horse. Though nowhere near as intense as what he’d been through before, it still could be enough to awaken the journalist within him.

There was a special challenge, though, in choosing to use actual news events in my story. Fiction dresses up history to serve the story, but since finding detailed accounts of Occupy events was as easy as searching the web, I didn’t want to go too far astray from the truth. I decided the best way to handle it was to merge incidents. I took the high-profile protests from New York and combined them with the chaos of Oakland’s, keeping the essence of events even if I wasn’t pointing to specifics.

Since Occupy was a global movement, I was also able to have its effects felt other places my characters visited, from Los Angeles—where Chris visits his friend and lover, Marco—to Mexico City—where Chris is working on his street food series for a magazine. It was a quiet presence in the background, building slowly, until it came to the foreground in one explosive moment.

Though challenging, working off current events lent a bit of gravity to Finally Home. It anchored the story in our reality and made the characters all the more real for it.

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.

A collection of tents was set up in the plaza in a colorful makeshift camp, ringing a tall kiosk at the center of it all. Hand-lettered signs hung from its wrought-iron whorls, waving above information tables staffed by college-age youths. Even without translating the signs, Chris knew what was going on. It was an activist group staging a large-scale protest. He’d seen similar things before in his travels, under different names, for various purposes. This specific group was calling itself the “Southern Camp of the Indignants,” and as he studied the signs he pieced together that they were part of the global Occupy movement he’d been reading about in the online papers. They were mainly protesting economic disparity, though they also had plenty to say about other social issues like political corruption and access to education.

Chris’s hands were on his camera before he was conscious of it, an old instinct forcing his finger to press on the button again and again. He snapped photos with the precision of a sniper, picking out the most interesting subjects from the confusion and capturing their images before they even knew he was there.
There were so many moments to catch, too. Here, a striking spray-painted stencil of a pigtailed Zapatista with “99%” beneath her bandana, there, a cluster of students listening intently to a scholar reading a paper through a crackling microphone. Chris’s skin tingled as he took a well-composed shot of a young protestor speaking with his fist in the air while a concerned police officer looked on in the background. This had nothing to do with food or tourism. This was a slice of real life, of genuine struggle, and a part of Chris that had gone dark long ago began to glow anew.

There had been a time, years before, when he had lived for this sort of subject. Protests, riots, rallies, even the occasional warzone had been Chris’s bread and butter when he’d been a brash young foreign correspondent. Back then, an event like this would have been a walk in the park, considering there were no bullets flying, no skulls cracking, no screams of terror, no blood, no women lamenting over the bodies of their—


A shudder ran through Chris, his fingers going slack and dropping his camera against his chest with a hard thud. It hurt, but not as badly as the ache of dark memories welling up from inside. His pulse was pounding in his ears, fevered sweat pricking his brow. He forced himself to orient, to focus on what was before him. Protestors yes, but peaceful. The nearby police were being vigilant, yet respectful. There was no threat of violence.

Not yet.

Chris hurried away from the Occupy camp, trying to steady his breathing. The churro he’d had earlier churned sourly in his belly, and he fought to keep it in place, just as he fought the shame welling within him. There was a reason he’d stopped being a foreign correspondent, even—especially—after he’d been shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. He’d decided to switch his focus from politics to travel, from conflict to cuisine. All these years, and still he could barely face a simple peaceful protest. It was still too close. Too damn close.


Purchasing Information
Dreamspinner Press eBook:

About the Author
Zee Kensington discovered a passion for writing erotica in her freshman year of college, and has been crafting sweet and sexy stories ever since. Inspired by her years working and playing in San Francisco’s LGBT community, she is especially drawn to tales that explore the joys and challenges of queer identities.
An almost-native Californian and a card-carrying geek, she currently lives in the SF Bay Area with her husband and toddler. When she’s not writing or catching up on her sleep she enjoys watching films, playing video games, experimenting in her kitchen, and dreaming of the day her son is old enough to travel the world with her.
Finally Home Blog Tour and Giveaway
Join me on my blog tour (August 29-September 12) and enter to win an autographed book bundle of Finally Home and Two Tickets to Paradise!


  1. Thanks for the great post about putting real events into the story. I have to imagine it's both grounding, but also somewhat difficult to not let it get out of hand.

  2. Thank you for the lovely post and sharing with us that real events inspired portions of the story.

  3. Thank you for sharing with us, I have enjoyed reading these posts and what events inspired your story.

  4. Thank you, all for you kind words, and for reading my post. :) It was a challenging post to write, but one I am proud of.