Zee Kensington in the Author Spotlight!
Zee Kensington is here today to talk about her two releases at Dreamspinner Press, Krung Thep, City of Angels, and its sequel, Finally Home. These stories are favorites of mine, combining international cuisine, travel, and romance. I had a chance to ask Zee about the inspiration for these stories, her favorite food and much, much more.
To go along with this wonderful interview, there is a contest to enter as well. To enter to win an eBook copy of Finally Home, leave a comment, include maybe a favorite city you have traveled to or a favorite food you have discovered while you traveled (or just plain love to eat). Make sure you have an email address included where you can be contacted if chosen. Must be over 18 years of age or older to enter. Contest ends 11/01/2014.
Now on to our interview…
Chatting with Author Zee Kensington on Writing, Food, and Inspiration
STRW: Why Thailand? What was it about the Thai culture and land that drew you to travel there and then incorporate it into this series?
Zee: Visiting Thailand happened largely by chance, actually! My husband and I have a friend who goes to Thailand annually with his family, and he’d been inviting us to join them for years. In the summer of 2011 my husband and I were finally able to take him up on his offer, thanks to a lucky congruence of time and money.
I didn’t know much about Thailand before that trip, honestly, beyond their cuisine. I learned so much while I was there! I loved the laid-back attitude of the Thai people and the melting pot of cultures one sees in Bangkok. I was also intrigued by the incredible juxtapositions at every turn: humble Buddhist temples and gleaming mega-malls on the same street, the delicious smells of cooking food carried on these horrible diesel-traffic breezes, rickety tuk-tuks chugging alongside luxury cars.
STRW: It is said that food is a path to a person’s outlook on life, a cultural foray into a people, and a life’s passion. You write about the Thai food from the street vendors on with such passion, has culinary exploration been a passion for you as well as Christopher’s?
Zee: Very much so. I see food as a gateway into culture that (most) everyone can access. You may not be able to speak the same language, or share the same religious beliefs, but you can still enjoy the same meal. I love reading culinary magazines like Saveur (which was the inspiration for International Savor, the magazine Chris writes for), not only for the recipes and photography, but for the glimpses into other cultures and customs. Its like traveling without leaving my living room.
STRW: I loved that we got to see some of the East LA food scene as well. How did you find balancing the food with the romance and serious exploration of the repercussions of coming out of the closet?
Zee: It was actually quite natural for me. Sharing food is such a bonding experience, you learn a lot about a person based on what—and how—they eat. Chris and Marco’s relationship has been built one meal at a time. At first it’s because of Chris’s job as a culinary writer, but it becomes a passion they both share as Marco grows more adventurous in his culinary explorations.
Food is also important when it comes to family. It’s ritual, be it a quiet breakfast or a big, awkward “meet the parents” dinner with your new partner. It’s natural that heavy personal matters will be discussed over a plate of chicken and waffles with your sibling, or that a slice of rainbow cake can mean more than just dessert.
STRW: I loved the balance between the two main characters families, each a challenge in their own way. Was one family easier to write than another? Which one?
Zee: Marco’s was a little easier to write, mostly because his background closely mirrors my own suburban, southern Californian upbringing. However, my mother isn’t an overbearing busy-body like Marco’s! I actually have a similar relationship to my parents as Marco does with his father—friendly and open—which influenced my portrayal of their (usually) easy rapport. I also have only one sibling, a younger brother, which was an inspiration with writing Marco’s big sister, Angela. I know what it’s like to help a little brother through a rough patch, that combination of deep love and mild exasperation that only an older sibling can feel.
STRW: We got a taste of Mexico, a growing portrait of New York City, and one of Los Angeles. Where do you anticipate taking this story and series next? Or will there be another story?
Zee: I definitely think there’ll be more Traveler and the Tourist stories down the line. Though Chris is a seasoned traveler, Marco has just started to explore the world. He’s going to want to see it all. I’ve conceived of some ideas of them visiting Europe—primarily Italy, where half of Marco’s family is from—though there will also be some adventures closer to home. New York City can be like a whole other planet to a suburban SoCal kid!
STRW: Clearly your travels played into the birth of these stories. Where else did your inspiration come from?
Zee: My friends and family are a huge inspiration for me. Not only for my characters, but for the experiences they’ve lived through. I’m also heavily inspired by all sorts of other stories—films, books, comics, games—and turn to them sometimes when I’m working on projects. John Burdett’s Royal Thai Detective series (particularly Bangkok 8) and Thai films such as Bangkok Love Story and Ong-Bak helped refresh my memories of Thailand and gave me perspective on things I may not have experienced firsthand.
STRW: Where would you want to travel next?
Zee: I’ve always wanted to visit the United Kingdom and Ireland. I have many family roots there, and I would love to see the “land of my forefathers.” I’ve also never seen a real castle before, and as a big fantasy geek, it would be amazing step inside of one! Oh, and have a real English pasty, too!
STRW: What childhood book had the greatest impact on you as a child and as an adult writer?
Zee: Oh my, so many to choose from! I was a voracious reader as a kid, everything from Judy Blume to the Babysitter’s Club. I have to say, though, that Jane Yolen’s The Mermaid’s Three Wisdoms stuck with me the most. Not only for the bittersweet tale or the gorgeous pencil illustrations, but for the rich way mermaid culture and biology were portrayed. No shell bras or singing crabs here!
As an adult and a writer…gosh, this is hard! I have to pick one? OK, I’m going to cheat and say The Joe Pitt Casebooks by Charlie Huston. It’s gritty, it’s scary, it’s sexy…everything I want in my vampire noir. As a reader, I love the characters and how they grow, and as a writer, I love how Huston took familiar vampire tropes and turned them on their ear. Also, how the geography and culture of New York City influence the story. His writing really showed me the importance of place in a story, how it can be its own character at times.
STRW: What’s next for Zee Kensington?
Zee: Isn’t that the million dollar question? I have some writing projects in the works—including a steamy BDSM ménage novel–but right now my biggest project is raising my son. He’s almost two, and more than a handful! I’m kind of playing it by ear right now, as my writing time is pretty limited.
STRW: One final question for y0u. A book can have the same effect on a person as comfort food. What would be your comfort read and favorite comfort food?
Zee: Oooh, good question! My comfort read is actually a comic book series, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. It’s not exactly cheerful, but it’s such a rich story, and speaks to the heart of me as a writer. I always discover new things, or interpret it differently since I’m in a different place in my life than the last time I read it. It’s kind of my constant.
As for comfort food, it has to be homemade cookies. Soft ones–not crunchy–with lots of chocolate chips. They can be peanut butter or oatmeal or old-fashioned Toll House, but they have to have those chocolate chips! With a glass of milk, of course.
Thanks so much for having me here today, Melanie! I had a wonderful time!
STRW: Thanks, Zee, for the great interview. Now let’s check out the Traveler and the Tourist books. These definitely below on all readers TBR list!
By Zee Kensington
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Release Date: August 29, 2014
Length: 206 pages
eBook: 978-1-62798-907-7, Paperback: 978-1-62798-906-0
Genre categories: contemporary, M/M, erotic, romance
Finally Home Blurb
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.
Purchasing Links: Dreamspinner Press eBook Dreamspinner Press paperback
Krung Thep, City of Angels
Prequel to Finally Home
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover artist: Paul Richmond
Date: September 22, 2014 (original release date February 2012)
Length: 44 pages
ISBN: eBook: 978-1-63216-829-0
Genre categories: contemporary, erotic, gay, M/M, romance
Krung Thep, City of Angels Blurb
Marco finds himself in over his head when he chooses Bangkok—Krung Thep to the locals—as his first solo travel destination. Luckily, seasoned travel journalist Chris takes Marco under his wing. Over one whirlwind day, the two Americans realize they have more in common than their homeland. Chris’s role changes from tour guide to mentor as he encourages Marco to embrace his budding identity as a gay man, and their camaraderie blossoms into romance. However, their newly forged connection is threatened by Chris’s career obligations—and unwillingness to change his solitary ways.
1st Edition appeared in Two Tickets to Paradise anthology published by Dreamspinner Press, February 2012.
Available as a FREE download: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5607
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.