Interview by Jon Michaelsen
Greg, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. I could literally ask you a ton of questions, having been a fan of your writing for years – but I’ll keep to just ten questions.
Let’s start off with, where do you live?
I live in the lower Garden District neighborhood of New Orleans.
Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?
I generally get up around seven every morning, even on the weekends, and spend the mornings writing, editing, writing my blog, cleaning my kitchen, and answering emails. I have a full time job in addition to writing and editing, and my partner and I have been together for going on nineteen years. Our gym is right around the corner from where we live, and we both workout as frequently as we can. Paul has a very stressful job—he’s the executive director of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, so he has to write grants, raise money, program, etc. etc. etc.—its five days of theater, food and music events in addition to literary master classes and panels and parties. Usually by the time we’ve both finished our days and had dinner we are pretty worn out, so we generally spend what little leisure time we have relaxing in the living room and binge-watching TV series. We just finished watching the third season of Suits, and are also streaming a guilty pleasure—Pretty Little Liars. Paul’s about to go visit his family for a week, and while he’s gone I’ll be watching the original Jonny Quest show, because I am writing an essay about its influence on my writing.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Maintaining my very shaky hold on sanity.
How did you get started in writing? Getting published?
I started writing when I was very young; I think I wrote my first Hardy Boys rip-off when I was about eight years old or so. I’ve pretty much written all of my life, whether it was some sort of fiction or simply daily entries in a diary. I kept a diary from age ten till I was in my late thirties; although I started blogging when I was forty-three and that’s a sort of public diary, I suppose.
My first gig getting paid to write was when I lived in Minneapolis in 1996, and I got a job as the sports columnist for a local publication called Lavender Lifestyles, which I believe has morphed into a glossy monthly called simply Lavender now. When I moved to New Orleans later that year, I started writing book reviews and a fitness column for the local gay paper, IMPACT News, which sadly is no longer around. As time passed, I started writing freelance for more publications, adding national ones to the local ones I was already writing for. I sold my first fiction short story, an erotic wrestling story, to an Alyson anthology in 1999; I was trying to find an agent for my first novel at the same time. After having no success with any agents, I pitched the book to my editor at Alyson; it turned out the anthology editor was also the editor-in-chief, and six weeks after I sent it to him, they made an offer and I accepted. That was Murder in the Rue Dauphine; I signed the contract in the fall of 1999 and the book wasn’t actually released until January 2002. It was a very long wait.
I still don’t have an agent to this day.
Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?
It depends. I wrote an outline for Murder in the Rue Dauphine and stuck to it religiously. I tried outlining my second novel, Bourbon Street Blues, but it just didn’t work. I eventually realized that Chanse novels had to be outlined because Chanse was a very rigid character; the Scotty books couldn’t be outlined because Scotty was such a free spirit he wouldn’t stick to the outline– so outlining those books was an utter and complete waste of time. As I’ve written more and more books, I tend to have the general idea of what the story is and how I’m going to get there in my head now by the time I sit down to start writing it, so I really don’t feel like I need to outline anymore. I generally now will only sit down and write out a plan for a novel whenever I get stuck, or can’t think of how to continue. Sometimes when I get stuck I go back to the beginning and start revising, and how to get out of the spot I’m in will come to me. I wouldn’t recommend my system to anyone.
I will say that when it comes to the Chanse books, I’ve noticed that rarely, if ever, does the killer change; the Scotty books the plot, story and who the killer is change from day to day as I write them. I always laugh when people tell me that the Scotty books are always full of surprises—because they are for me, too.
Readers most know you from your two longest running mystery, suspense/thriller series; the Chanse MacLeod mysteries (six books) and the Scotty Bradley mystery/thrillers (six books). How are you able to slip into the vastly different characterizations of Chanse and Scotty so easily?
Early in my career I used to say that Chanse and Scotty were opposite sides of the same coin. I’ve always thought that Scotty was the person I would have been had I been raised the way he was; that he was the positive, happy-go-lucky, ‘always expect the best out of everyone’ side of me while Chanse was the other side of my personality; distrustful, kind of dark and pessimistic, always expecting the worst to happen.
I don’t think that’s true anymore, to be honest. Both are fictional constructs with elements of myself in them; but neither one of them is me. I just know them both so well know that it’s very easy to slip into their voices and their heads when I am writing them—and Scotty’s head is a much more pleasant place to be than Chanse’s.
It was very important to me when I started the Scotty series that he be as different from Chanse as possible; otherwise there was no point in writing about him. If they were going to be the same voice, basically the same person, there wasn’t a point in writing two different series.
I wasn’t taken very seriously early in my career—not that I am taken all that seriously now—but I wanted to do something that I didn’t think had been done before; I wanted to write a dark, serious, hardboiled style series and a light, funny one, and alternate between them. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in doing that, but I also don’t go back and reread my books once they are in print. Once the galleys are proofed, I generally don’t read the book again unless I need to verify some continuity—and now that I have e-copies of them, I can just do a word-search for whatever I’m looking for, so I don’t have to try to remember where in the books the little piece I need to review and reread is.
I suppose that you’re asking the question shows that I have somewhat succeeded at making the two characters, and the two series, different from each other. I still worry about that.
Which of your novels/series have fans responded to the most? (My favs are the Chanse MacLeod mysteries);
Early on, I got more response from the Scotty books than the Chanse ones; now I’d say it’s about the same. I always assumed it was because Scotty was so much more fun and more accessible than Chanse; Scotty is the guy you’d want to hang out with. The Scotty books also used to outsell the Chanse books—now Chanse has caught up, and I hear from readers equally. I’m not sure why that is, to be honest.
Within the mystery, suspense/thriller genres, you’ve written several YA novels with gay characters, including my favorite “Sleeping Angel”. What was your inspiration for writing novels aimed at a younger audience? (Full disclosure – I think these novels appeal to all readers, regardless of age!)
Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say, and incredibly nice to hear, because I did intend for them to appeal to adults, too. I always wanted to write books for teen readers, and I consider myself to incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to get them published. I actually wrote my first three y/a novels (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara) in the early 1990’s. I wrote first drafts of each and then just stuck them in a drawer. The published versions of Sorceress and Sara didn’t deviate much from the stories I originally wrote; Sleeping Angel was completely overhauled. I don’t think of them as books for teenagers; I think of them as books about teenagers. Initially, I worried about writing for teens and found that I didn’t like what I was writing, and finally decided to focus on telling the story and exploring the characters without worrying about the readers. I leave that to my editor, and I am very fortunate to have a very good one.
I’ve always wanted to step outside the series box and write stand-alones; it just so happens that the first five or so I’ve done (under my own name) have been about teenagers and are marketed/labelled as y/a fiction. (Timothy was called ‘new adult.’) The fun of writing a stand-alone novel is that I don’t have to worry about continuity; it’s a whole new world every time I write one, and I can stretch and try things with them that I can’t do in a series novel. Ironically, they are all kind of linked; the heroine of Sorceress is from the small town in Kansas where Sara is set, and some of the characters in Sara were mentioned in Sorceress. Likewise, the town where Sorceress takes place is the same town where Sleeping Angel is set; some of the minor characters cross over from one book to the other. Mouse in Timothy was from that same region of Kansas, only the county seat rather than the small town in the north part of the county. Scotty in Lake Thirteen is from the same suburb of Chicago that Glenn in Sara was from.
I’m hoping to keep doing the young adult/new adult books. In the most recent Scotty, Baton Rouge Bingo, Frank’s college age gay nephew comes to live with them in New Orleans. It might be fun to give him his own series, or at least his own adventure—and to see Scotty, Frank and the rest of the gang from a new perspective! (Incidentally, Frank’s nephew is from the same small town in Alabama that the protagonist of Dark Tide, my next young adult being released this September, is from. I can’t seem to help connecting all of my books together.)
With six books published to date in the Chanse MacLeod mystery series, I’ve read recently that you plan to end the series with the next and final installment; say it isn’t so! Will Chanse finally get to ride off into the sunset with that special man by his side?
Sorry, no spoilers! You’ll just have to read Murder in the Arts District to find out. It’ll be out in October. (Jon-Grrr!)
Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?
I’m writing a romantic suspense murder mystery called The Orion Mask. It might be coming out after the first of the year; I’m not really sure. I’m very excited about it; I think it’s being called a ‘new adult’ novel because the main character is in his early twenties. It’s my homage to the great women writers I read when I was a teenager: Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. My main character’s father has recently died, and he’s been contacted by his mother’s family, whom he doesn’t know and his father has kept him away from. His mother died when he was very young, and when he comes to visit and get to know his mother’s family, who live on a gorgeous estate just outside of New Orleans, he discovers that his mother’s death wasn’t an accident—she murdered her lover and killed herself. At least, that’s the story…and he begins to realize the ‘accepted’ story isn’t the truth…and there’s still a murderer out there.
On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.
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