2013 Lambda Literary Award Winner in Gay Mystery, Author Jeffrey Round

Interviewed by Jon Michaelsen  © 2014

Jeffrey, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

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Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in the now-fashionable neighbourhood of Leslieville, in Toronto’s east end. When I moved here, twenty years ago, it was very unfashionable. There were skinheads living at the end of my street and not a flower to be seen.  My then-partner and I were the first to landscape our yard, front and back. By the following year, we seemed to have started a trend. The skinheads moved out and the neighbours began taking a greater interest in the appearance of their properties. Now we have trendy cafés, film studios and even gelato shops.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I’m not sure there is very much to share. I lived with a partner and a hound dog for a number of years. Then we split up and my dog died. I was single for the past few years. Unexpectedly, last December, I met someone I am very happy to be with, though we’ve held off on the decision to move in together. He is a gay dad, the father of a 14-year old, just like my character Dan Sharp. It’s a clear case of life imitating art. As for the writing, I work in an upstairs office overlooking my backyard garden. It’s very peaceful. I can hear the crickets and see stars at night. It keeps me sane, otherwise I might not have stayed in the city.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date? 

I’ve been lucky enough to have eight books published. (That is as of this month, in fact. In the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci—my first book of poetry—has just come out from Tightrope Books.) I consider that an accomplishment, though when I measure it against everything I’ve wanted to achieve in life, it seems fairly insignificant. How I’ll feel about it all in another twenty years remains to be seen. I think if I were a father, I would see that as a much more important personal accomplishment.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?

Surprisingly little in any direct sense, which is fortunate. I prefer to fight for what I believe in rather than fight against what I don’t like. My writing is pretty direct in stating how I feel about the world around me. Indirectly, I suppose there are plenty of readers who won’t pick up my books because of the gay slant. There’s nothing I can do about that. I think if they did, they might be surprised to find some intelligent insights on what makes life worth living while being entertained along the way. They could only benefit from it.

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I was recently introduced to your Bradford Fairfax Mysteries via first novel, “The P-Town Murders” and Dan Sharp Mysteries via first novel, “Lake on the Mountain”; the former features Private Investigator/Special Agent, Bradford Fairfax, and the latter, Missing Persons Investigator, Dan Sharp; both gay mystery series are polar opposites, including the main characters. Was this intentional on your part? 

I’m glad you got to see both sides of me. I think of Dan as the dark me and Bradford as the light me. Between them, I sort of balance out. Yes, it was entirely intentional once I got going. I didn’t start off writing mysteries at all, but after writing a novel about the Bosnian War (The Honey Locust) and not being able to find a publisher for it for several years, I started to give serious thought as to what might sell. I wrote and polished The P-Town Murders in six months and sold it in less than two weeks. I knew I was on track and quickly penned a sequel, Death in Key West. Seeing how fast I could do this, my former editor asked when I was going to “get serious about mysteries.” I was having so much fun writing the comedies, it took me a while to realize I had the potential to take things in a weightier direction. When I wrote Lake On The Mountain, I didn’t plan on writing a second series. My character, Dan Sharp, had other ideas, as it turns out.

The first Dan Sharp mystery, Lake on the Mountain, won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Mystery in 2013. Congratulations on your Lammy! Did you ever expect such a prestigious award for your love of writing? Did winning the award help introduce Dan Sharp to more readers across the border? 

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Thanks, Jon, and congratulations on your nomination as well. The Lambda win was a much-welcome vote of confidence in my writing, though I’m acutely aware how many books out there don’t get the recognition they deserve, so it was also humbling. As for expectations, there are always hopes and dreams, and we all need those! I did, however, have an argument with my agent over the book. For some reason, she was reluctant to shop it around. (Maybe this is the homophobia you asked about. It is much more blatantly sexual than any of my previous books.) I kept insisting it was my best writing to date. We eventually parted ways over it and I sold it on my own. My editor at Dundurn said he thought it was a book with award-winning potential, and I agreed, so while I was grateful when it was nominated for and eventually won the Lambda, I was not totally surprised. Now the trick is to see whether I can live up to the expectation it has built for subsequent volumes.

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As for whether the award influenced sales, I can’t give a definitive answer to that. I was told it was one of Dundurn’s four best-selling ebooks of 2012 before the nomination, so it was already doing well. I remember going around Manhattan the weekend I was there for the Lambda Award ceremonies trying to find copies to sign in bookstores. It was a depressing and dismal attempt. I think I signed two copies in total. Nor could I find a single Lammy nominees table. I think it’s deplorable for a city like New York not to recognize the event. While LGBT-themed books that sell well are somewhat more prominent in bookstores than they once were, it’s the lesser-known books that need the boost.

The Bradford Fairfax mystery novels have been identified as campy, somewhat humorous mysteries, and set in exotic locations such as P’Town, or Provincetown, MA; Key West, FL  and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico? Where does your sense of humor come from? Are you as well-traveled as your protagonist?’

Ah, humour! It comes from the gods, I suspect. In high school, I was introduced to the classics: Laughing and Grief. I enjoy both equally. I am inspired by my travels, and can always be found laughing at (or with) something. I’m an ardent observer of human nature and consider myself a social critic. It’s the desire to make things better for the world and, at the same time, having learned to take life’s preposterousness with a grain of salt that ignites my sense of humour.

As for travels, I’ve been to all the places I’ve written about in both mystery series. I am often inspired to write because of the people I meet, the events I witness, as well as just by the sheer daydreaming that happens when I travel. The P-Town Murders was sparked by the realization that I was being spied on from next door by someone with binoculars while I lay naked in a Jacuzzi in my guest-house. As I like to say, I got out of the tub and flashed the guy, then had a flash of my own—that of writing a mystery about a guy being spied on in Provincetown. Bradford, incidentally, is named after one of P-town’s two main thoroughfares.

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Much of what I write about in the mysteries comes close to being true, except for the so-called “main event.” It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say the books are memoirs of my vacations with a little murder thrown in. I certainly share many of Brad’s neuroses and can be just as goofy at times.

I must admit, I’m in love with Missing Persons Investigator, Dan Sharp. He comes across as so serious and professional, yet flawed with a darker, grittier side than Bradford Fairfax. Sharp is an alcoholic and suffers PTSD; I just want to pull him in and hold him tight until the sun comes up! But, I digress. What was your inspiration for penning such an outwardly masculine, yet complex and emotionally challenged protagonist?    

Feel free to hug me. While I’m not much of a drinker (pretty much a complete washout, as far that goes), like Dan, I’ve been unofficially diagnosed with Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I initially scoffed at the idea, thinking it was something only soldiers and people who experienced war first-hand could have, but that is far from the truth. In fact, it’s likely that many in the LGBT community suffer to various degrees from the disorder. The classic triggers include, among other things, fear for our own safety or the safety of someone close to us. With gay bashing, and coming from a generation of gay men who confronted AIDS first-hand, we’ve all got our own horror stories to tell. As I say of Dan, you don’t have to have been to war to live in a warlike state of mind. That’s where Dan comes from. There was a time when I found myself hating the world and being reluctant to get up and go outside and confront life every day. I knew I was miserable, but I didn’t understand why. I considered myself a good, caring person who tried to help others and make the world a better place, but that didn’t make me feel better. I suspect that many LGBT suicides are connected to the disorder. Once I accepted the diagnosis, it made all the difference in terms of dealing with what I was feeling and experiencing. I now consider myself a survivor, and take up the issue front and centre in the next Dan Sharp book, The Jade Butterfly. It’s very much at the heart of what drives Dan.

Do you have plans for another novel in the Bradford Fairfax series?

I’m a very analytical writer. I knew by the time I finished The P-Town Murders there would be at least seven books, and possibly an eighth. As it turns out there will be eight, if I have time to finish them all. There are three out now. Bon Ton Roulez is the fourth, and it’s already complete. It will probably come out some time next year. It takes place in New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina, which is when I first visited that city. The eighth book to be conceived (but fifth in order of writing) is Havana Club. It surprised me, coming out of nowhere a couple years ago after a trip to Cuba where I hooked up with a straight Aussie guy who became a good friend as well as a character. I realized it wasn’t actually in the series, but rather takes place prior to the series, not long after Brad completes his secret agent training. A final book, Toronto the Bad, will complete the series and answer a few questions I’ve purposely left dangling up to now, including who or what is behind the secret organization Brad works for. All the books take place in LGBT-friendly cities (Havana is the exception to the “friendly” rule, though it seems to be slowly warming up), so there will also be future volumes set in Palm Springs and San Francisco.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

I mentioned the poetry book earlier. It has just come out. It is dedicated to my father, who died recently. I was grateful to the publisher for printing a single early copy in time for me to give it to him. He couldn’t talk much by the end, but I watched him as he held it and thumbed through it with a great deal of emotion. (JM – what an awesome feeling you must have had to share such a labor of love with your father…)

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Earlier this year, I had two mysteries published, the second Dan Sharp mystery (Pumpkin Eater) and the third Bradford Fairfax mystery (Vanished in Vallarta.) A third Dan Sharp mystery, The Jade Butterfly, is already edited and in the can, as they say. It’s scheduled for a February 2015 publication.

I am currently writing the fourth Dan Sharp book, After the Horses, inspired by a real-life event in Toronto where the owner of a gay country and western bar was murdered. His lover was charged with his murder but not convicted. I’m working on a slightly different take of the story.

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.

Many thanks for the opportunity! It’s inspiring to know such groups are active on-line. I wish you all happy reading and writing.

 

Find Jeffrey Round on the web:

www.jeffreyround.com

and

http://unvailed.com/category/a-writers-half-life/

 

 

 

On The Record with Author of the Russell Quant Mysteries – Anthony Bidulka

Interview with author Anthony Bidulka

Interviewed by Jon Michaelsen  © 2014

 

Anthony, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada. I was raised on a grain farm near a little prairie town called Prud’homme, but for the last many decades I’ve made my home in the city of Saskatoon. It’s a little gem few people know about or have been to, only 250,000 people, a little bit of everything you need (and for everything else, well, that’s what airplanes are for), dramatic changes in seasons, safe, friendly.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

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Sure. For the past twenty years or so, my husband, Herb, and I have lived in a wonderful house we built on twelve acres just outside the city limits of Saskatoon. It’s a big house for two guys and two dogs (labradoodles Kona and Magic), but we use every inch of it. We each have busy lives and careers, so we treat our home as our refuge, a place where we can relax, luxuriate, hang out with the dogs and spend quality time together. But we also use it for entertaining –  family get-togethers, pool parties in the summer, fundraisers for causes we support, and we throw a heckuva Christmas party for anywhere between 100-200 people that brings together people from every walk of life and from the age of 8 to 88. (One of my ‘things’ is decorating theme Christmas trees, I do seven every year.) The house is also a great place to hang our art collection, another passion. We’re big travelers, but whenever a trip is over, we’re always just as happy to come home to our life on the prairies.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date? 

I’d have to say my greatest accomplishment is finding a wonderful husband to spend my life with. From a professional perspective though, it was deciding to take a leap of faith and leaving my long-term, traditional career as a chartered accountant to pursue my long-term passion  for writing…and it worked out!

You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers and fellow writers would like to know; Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?

Remember the thing about being an accountant? I am by no means a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kinda guy when it comes to writing. From the beginning I saw this as a serious career that I wanted to make a go of. So I approach each manuscript, each story, as any other entrepreneur would when starting a new business. I plan, I research, I create the best environment I can in which to carry out my task and be successful, then I put my head down and work.

I am a draft writer. It might take me two or three or thirteen drafts of a piece of writing before I feel satisfied with it (never entirely, but as close as I can get without overworking it). My goal is to present my editor with the best product I can create given my skill sets and the benefit of whatever experience I have up to that date (which of course is different..and hopefully greater…with each book).

Writing fiction can be a very fluid and spontaneous thing or very structured. For me I like to combine both. I first create a strong framework (outlines, drafts) upon which to build. I know my starting point, ending point, and key points in between. But everything else happens on the spot, allowing me the freedom to be creative and free. Sometimes it’s this unplanned stuff that is the richest material, but without a firm supporting structure, it would be useless.

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Have you ever had to deal with homophobia and/or bigotry because of publishing books with MC’s who are gay? In what form(s)?

Not that I have ever been aware of. I’m sure somewhere along the line certain readers have chosen not to read a Russell Quant book because he is gay. Some may do so from what might be described as a homophobic point of view, others may do so because they simply believe – right or wrong – that they wouldn’t enjoy reading a book with a gay main character in the same way other readers would decide they don’t want to read a mystery with a main character who is a dog or a librarian.

I see writing about gay characters as an opportunity rather than a challenge. An opportunity to distinguish myself as a mystery writer amongst a massive pool of other mystery writers, an opportunity to present gay characters to readers who might not normally find them in their typical reading choices.

The first novel in your highly popular, award-winning Russell Quant mystery series is “Amuse Bouch”, released in 2005. The series now totals eight novels, yet has enjoyed resurgence with a new legion of fans, especially with the release of the novels in Kindle/e-book & Audio book. Did you ever imagine how popular your gay private detective would become?

The first thing I wrote was a dark, dystopian thriller. I thought this was the book that would start my career. But it was the second thing I wrote, the manuscript for Amuse Bouche, which immediately got attention from publishers. That’s when I knew I had something important here. Maybe I knew it all along because I wrote Amuse Bouche with the full intention of it being a series, not a one-book-thing. I had plans for all these characters that needed to be told over a number of books. I hoped we’d get three, maybe five books. For the series to have run to eight books (so far…I never say never), is a thrill for me.

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Your novels often feature scenery from world-wide locales, including New York, France, exotic ports in the Mediterranean and Hawaii to name a few. Are your travels as varied as Russell Quants?   

Yes. Except for one locale (can you guess which one?), I have traveled to all the same places Russell Quant has. Even the cruise he’s on in Tapas on the Ramblas was loosely based on an itinerary for a cruise I’d taken a few years earlier. Writing this series has been a joy for many reasons, one being the opportunity to marry two things I love to do: write and travel.

Most recently we visited Ireland for the first time, coming up we’ll be strolling the canals in Venice, sun bathing in Turks & Caicos, hosting houseguests in the hills outside of St. Tropez, and we’ve just finalized a trip to Japan that had to be postponed because of the tsunami. We like to mix it up between new places, old familiar haunts, relaxation trips, new adventure trips, traveling with friends, traveling alone. The world is too cool to ignore.

Your most recent release, the start of what I understand is a planned new suspense/thriller series featuring Canadian Disaster Recovery Agent, Adam Saint, is a 180 from the Russell Quant mystery series – for starters, Agent Saint is straight. What influenced you to branch out into mainstream fiction?

I like change. In my life I’ve had careers everywhere from being a bartender, a school teacher, a shoe salesman, an accountant and a writer. Every so often I get the itch. Fortunately the itch wasn’t to change careers entirely and become a mountain climber or lawyer, but I did want to stretch my artistic muscles and try something new. I had a lot of push back from some readers about writing a non-Russell Quant book. I realized that they’d grown to love him as a dear friend, and who wants a friend replaced? I knew I had to approach this from another perspective. Instead of replacing our friend, I was simply introducing a new one to the fold. The key was going to be creating a new character who was very different from Russell.

As far as Adam Saint being straight. That’s just the way he turned out. Like life, right? And really, going back to one of your earlier questions, just as I expect straight readers to accept a gay detective and give the Quant books a try, I also expect gay readers to accept a straight main character and give Adam Saint a try. In the end, all readers read for different reasons, which I respect. If a reader is only reading because of the sexuality of the main character, rather than the story, quality of writing, or type of genre, there is nothing I can do to influence their choice. I write the books I write. Hopefully you like my style, or humor, or storytelling ability, or whatever. If not, that’s okay too.

What can Russell Quant fans expect from you in the future?      

I can tell you this: I never say never. So if you were to ask if the Russell Quant series is over, that would be my response. Should there never be another Russell Quant book, I feel I left him in a very good place at the end of the 8th book, Dos Equis. But that book could also be a great starting point for an interesting turn in his life both professionally and personally.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, this series continues to attract attention of filmmakers who believe the subject would translate well to TV or film, so that is always another possibility for Russell Quant’s future. That’s a great about the future, you never know what wonderful things are yet to come. 

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Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

I’m currently in the final editing phase and working on cover design and all that other fun new-book stuff for the second Adam Saint novel, The Women of Skawa Island, which will be released November 2014. And, true to my aforementioned love of change, I’m also trying my hand at a new standalone novel that I’m excited about. It’s something very new for me in terms of style and content, and if I were to compare it to something out there today, it’s along the lines of Gone Girl. Who knows if anything will come of it, but I’m enjoying the challenge of it and the ‘stretch’.

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.

It’s been my great pleasure! Any time! Thanks for your interest.

 

Find Anthony Bidulka on the web: www.anthonybidulka.com and check him out for daily bits and pieces about travel, writing, art, parties, or just hanging out with hubby and dogs at Facebook and Twitter (@abidulka)

 

Michael Craft Shares What He’s Been up to Since penning the Mark Manning Series

Interviewed by Jon Michaelsen  © 2014

 

Michael, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

Business1I live in Rancho Mirage, California, which is near Palm Springs. Prior to that, I lived for many years in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and prior to that, the Chicago area, where I grew up. I made my permanent move to California nine years ago.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

While home life isn’t generally very newsy, I’m delighted to report that I’m now happily married—because at last it’s legal. My husband, Leon, and I made it official last November. We chose the date, a Tuesday, because it marked what “would have been” our 31st anniversary.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date? 

Having struggled 12 years to find a publisher for my first novel, Rehearsing, I found that accomplishment rather heady back in 1993. Then, having had the good fortune to publish another dozen novels in the 20 years since, that seems like a collective accomplishment worthy of mention as well. Honestly, though, simply being able to self-identify as an “author” or a “novelist”—that still thrills me.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?

Never. I don’t know whether to attribute this to dumb luck or to changing social mores, but I have never, at least to my knowledge, been the victim of homophobia. This may seem especially surprising, given that I emerged as a gay writer during the years when I lived in Wisconsin. But the Midwest is not nearly so provincial as many people tend to think.

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The three-time Lambda Award nominated Mark Manning mystery series is what fans have come to know you for, starting in 1997 with the release of Flight Dreams. Last year, to the excitement of many fans, the first five novels in the series were released in e-book format. Are you surprised by the series’ endurance after all these years?  

Sure, I’m surprised—and pleasantly, of course. It’s not only gratifying to know that the series “has legs,” but it’s also, for lack of a better word, validating. Writing, by its nature, is such a solitary pursuit, and writers (if I may stereotype) tend to be an insecure breed, having endured a lot of rejection before joining the ranks of the published. There’s always that nagging fear in the background that you just don’t have what it takes, that the story just isn’t good enough. So it’s wonderful and heartening to see the early work finding a new audience—or being discovered again by its original audience.

Can you share why you chose to end the Mark Manning series with the release of the seventh and final novel, Bitch Slap?

I had actually intended to end the series with the sixth installment, Hot Spot, but my publisher wanted more, and I complied. Looking back, I must have felt that this gave me the freedom to be more experimental with the seventh, and in fact Bitch Slap breaks a lot of the conventional mystery rules. To this day, I feel it’s the strongest book in the series and the best written of the bunch. Unfortunately, the title, which was my own bright invention, may have held the book back, and the cover, which was the publisher’s doing, simply fell flat.

Aside from those marketing considerations, I truly felt it was time to end the series because its “bigger story” had been told and was finished. Each installment dealt with a self-contained mystery plot (the whodunit, which I sometimes call the surface plot or the action plot), but the series as a whole also has an overarching “soul plot” that traces Manning’s coming out and evolution as a gay man—his evolution as a person, really. I left him exactly where I wanted him to be.

FlightDreamsIt’s been about ten years since the release of your last Manning novel. What has kept you so busy all these years?

Good question! And I’m not sure I have a satisfactory answer. The last ten years have been a period of transition and reevaluation for me. I moved from Wisconsin to California. I left my fifties and entered my sixties. I ended my corporate years and began retirement. I went back to school, earned an MFA in creative writing, and have tried to hone my craft and bring it to the next level. I have experimented with both playwriting and screenwriting—including a two-year involvement with an independent film project—and then concluded that script writing is simply not my medium. This has been a valuable lesson that has brought my focus back to fiction. Having scratched those other itches, I now feel securely back on track.

Most important, I don’t feel that the past ten years have been in any sense wasted time, spinning my wheels. Rather, it was a necessary period of self-reflection and redirection that I would hope to characterize not as hibernation, but as growth.

Have you ever considered penning another gay mystery series or revisiting Mark Manning?

The book is closed, so to speak, on Mark Manning; as I mentioned above, I have left him where I want him to be. As for another gay mystery series, that’s not out of the realm of possibility, but I have no current plans to move in that direction. My most recent novel, The MacGuffin, is a stand-alone mystery, not intended as the basis for a series—not gay-centric either. I did invest a bit of work on a possible sequel to that one, but it just wasn’t working. Meanwhile, I’ve gotten really excited about exploring a slightly different direction. (More on this below.)

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The MacGuffin is such a departure from your previous mystery series (Mark Manning and Claire Gray). Can you share a little about your influence to move mainstream with your most recent mystery novel?

Although there is a gay presence in The MacGuffin, neither the protagonist nor the narrative viewpoint is gay. Your word “mainstream” is a fair characterization. And while I have always self-identified as a gay writer, I sometimes add the caveat that I’m “a writer who happens to be gay.” In other words, I don’t feel duty-bound to write exclusively to a gay audience or to write exclusively about gay issues or interests. This springs naturally from my philosophical stance that the ultimate victory in the fight for gay rights is assimilation, not ghettoization. It’s a big world out there. We are part of it, and it is part of us.

It used to be that if you walked into a bookstore looking for gay-themed material, it was all shelved together (if they had it at all), away from its mainstream counterparts, as if reserved for a rarefied niche—which perhaps it was. Now, though, if you can find a bookstore, you can probably find gay authors mingled with authors of unspecified sexuality, as if it doesn’t matter—just as it should be.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

I’d love to. Over the last couple of years, I’ve “discovered” the short story, a venerable old medium to which I had previously paid little attention, either as a writer or as a reader. I’ve also become fascinated by an emerging hybrid medium that is variously referred to as “linked short stories” or “a novel in stories.” In such a collection, the individual stories serve a function similar to chapters, except that each story can stand alone, whereas the chapters of a novel cannot. Taken as a whole, however, the collected stories tell a larger story, much like a novel.

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And that’s my current project. I’m at work on such a collection, which will consist of about a dozen stories. There is a linking character who appears in every story, in roles ranging from central to peripheral. On the cusp of his 60th birthday, he is drawn out of the closet—so, yes, I’m wearing my gay-writer hat for this one. Many, but not all, of the stories are narrated through a gay lens.

I find this exciting because the collection allows me to utilize an array of viewpoint characters and narrative choices (third person vs. first; past tense vs. present), and it also allows me to tell the overarching story with a nonlinear timeline. Perhaps the biggest change for me, in terms of technique, is that I am writing largely without an outline, allowing the collection to grow organically as I write it. This has been enormously liberating. What’s more, these stories tend to be more character-driven than my mysteries, which are inherently plot-driven.

I’m hoping to complete the book-length draft by the end of this year. With any luck, it could be published next year. No working title yet. So stay tuned.

BitchSlap

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.

And thank you, Jon, for the opportunity to share all these ramblings with your readers.

 

Find Michael Craft on the web: www.michaelcraft.com

 

 

 

The Incredible John Morgan Wilson, Author of the Benjamin Justice Mystery Series

Interviewed by Jon Michaelsen  © 2014

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

West Hollywood, CA.  I moved here in early 1992 as a renter, scoped out the place, and bought a small house here in late 1993.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I live with my companion of twenty years, artist and fashion accessories designer Pietro Gamino.  We share our small house and patio with a spirited dog of indeterminate breeds named Jasmine. We live a fairly quiet life on the fringe of the lively cultural and social scene West Hollywood is known for, within walking distance of nearly all our needs.  Many of our neighbors know each other; it’s that kind of neighborhood.  Now and then a friend or group of friends drops in for dinner.  (Pietro cooks; I’m the gardener and general fix-it guy.)  Most of my closest friends, some dating back nearly 60 years to grade school, others from high school and college, are scattered now, but the core of our very tight group lives in Northern California.  We get together for a reunion once a year, sometimes more often, usually for several days.  My basketball and backpacking days are behind me, but I still hike and take long walks, and get to the gym about twice a week.  Most days I write for several hours in my downstairs writing room, sometimes more hours than that, with various projects in the works, all fiction, short and long.  I also spend time with my beloved Aunt Betty, who’s widowed at 89; she lives about half an hour away, out by the beach.  We just set our next outing: the movie Boyhood, followed by burgers.

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What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date? 

Coming out as a gay man in 1973 and developing as an activist for LGBT rights, even though I was a drone, not a leader.  The act of coming out, not just privately to friends and family but also publicly, was an essential building block of the LGBT movement, which laid the groundwork for the progress still being forged today.  I’m grateful to have been a small part of it.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?

Homophobia is such a big word and means different things to different people, and varies so much in scope and degree, so that’s not an easy question to answer.  I’ve certainly faced the ghettoization of my Benjamin Justice novels, which feature an unapologetically gay protagonist, in many bookstores and other market venues.  That said, without that “gay” label and those “gay” sections, it would have been even more difficult to find my audience, so it’s a two-edged sword.  I’ve experienced a couple of very nasty reviews that reviewed the content more than the writing.  When my first novel, Simple Justice, was reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, the anonymous reviewer was openly disdainful, citing a “brutal relationship” in the story between Justice, who was 38, and a teenage boy.  There was a teenage boy in the novel, in jail on a murder charge, but Justice never met him in the course of the story, never even spoke to him.  Then there are publications that ignore you altogether.  My series is set in L.A., won a number of awards, including an Edgar for best first novel from Mystery Writers of America, yet not one of my novels was ever reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, where mystery novels were regularly reviewed back then.  The LAT did run a feature on me and the Justice novels, however.  During the interview, the male reporter, who had just read Justice at Risk, commented on his surprise that Justice was so at ease with and unapologetic about his sexual orientation, “as if it’s no big deal.”  He also said something that astounded me: “You must be the only author who’s writing these gay mysteries.”  He’d never heard of Joseph Hansen, Michael Nava, Katherine V. Forrest, or any other gay or lesbian crime writer.  He thought I was the first one!  This was a staff writer for the L.A. Times!  That alone tells you what the mainstream mindset and environment was like for LGBT writers back then, even though I had a four-book deal with Doubleday, a major publisher, and very respectable advances.  I must add that the mystery reading and writing community was generally very open and fair to me, treating me no differently than other authors, at least not that I experienced, or could see.  I do know that many straight readers, particularly the men, are uncomfortable with the sexual frankness of an occasional scene in my novels, but that’s their right to be sexually uptight, and their problem.  Sadly, the most vicious hate mail I got was from another gay writer – apparently envious of anyone who received more recognition than he did.  I wasn’t the only one he targeted, so I tried not to take it personally.

I am a huge fan of your Benjamin Justice mystery series, with a total of eight novels that feature a disgraced newspaper crime reporter in Los Angeles. Do you recall your inspiration for writing such a flawed, gay and broken character in Simple Justice?

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I read a lot of mystery novels as a kid, starting with the Hardy Boys but moving on to a wide range of the genre, from Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to G.K. Chesteton (the Father Brown stories), Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, et al.  As a kid growing up after my parents’ divorce, with emotional chaos and later criminal abuse when my mother remarried, I loved the reassuring structure, the moral lessons, the unfamiliar worlds that mystery novels took me into, the way the chaos was resolved and a broken world was put back together at the end.  And, of course, I loved the suspense.  But I rarely read crime fiction after I got to college and became engrossed with literary fiction.  Then, in the early 1990s, a friend suggested I read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress.  I was blown away, not just by the economy and quality of the writing, and the rich characterizations and sense of place, but the way he was able to explore and vent on social issues and social history, in this case from an African-American perspective, within the framework of a compelling whodunit.  It got me to wondering if I might do that with a gay protagonist.  I started noodling a character and possible premise.  Somehow, out of that, came the first novel, Simple Justice, and a series was born.  When I started writing, I had in mind a rather light, fast, commercial crime novel, in the vein of Joseph Hansen but slicker.  But the moment I started writing in the first person, which I’d never done with fiction, the much darker, tougher voice of Benjamin Justice took hold, and I ended up with a much darker, tougher, grittier novel than I’d ever imagined.  I also thought I was writing a fairly straightforward murder mystery, with the colorful West Hollywood setting.  What I learned, when I’d written the last line, was that I was actually writing about surviving grief in the age of AIDS and the need to create your own family if your birth family can’t sustain you.  When I’d discovered what I was really writing about – the theme, the important stuff beneath the surface – it informed my revisions, and helped me write a stronger novel.  It call came the main character.  The plot was certainly nothing to brag about.

The Edgar-winning, three-time Lambda Award winning Benjamin Justice mystery series is what fans have come to know you for, starting with the release of Simple Justice in 1996 and ending with Spider Season in 2008. More recently, Bold Strokes Books has re-released the first four in the series in both e-book and print. Are you surprised with the series’ longevity?

Not really.  The series did get a lot of attention for a while, and I’ve had a very loyal core readership over the years.  The countless emails and other communications I’ve received from readers have been so meaningful and encouraging.  Meeting readers over time has been another great reward.  At one point, when my fifth novel, Blind Eye, came out, it was number one on Amazon’s gay men’s mystery bestseller list for many months, and pulled up three of the earlier titles to fill out all but one of the top five slots.  That was a real revelation to me about how the series has some lasting power.  Blind Eye got some good press, including a featured interview on NPR, because it dealt with the priest abuse crisis just as it was making headlines.  That kind of mainstream attention can really make a difference, but most LGBT writers don’t get that kind of recognition, which is why LGBT literary organizations like the Lambda Literary Foundation are so important, along with blog sites and pages like this one (and especially now that most of the LGBT bookstores are gone).  The Edgar also helped.  I’ve been told that I was the first openly gay author with a gay-themed novel to win an Edgar, so I guess I’m a footnote now.  What is really surprising to me is how passive I am when it comes to business.  I’ve never made the other four novels, the most recent ones, available as reprints or e-books, even though I still get regular inquiries from readers about those titles, six years after the last one appeared.

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Can you share why you chose to end the Benjamin Justice series with the release of the eighth and final novel, Spider Season?

I felt I’d gone to the well too many times with that particular character, his raw emotions, his world, the issues that haunted him, etc.  Some authors call it series burnout.  I found myself repeating myself too much.  I was struggling to stay inspired and keep the quality up.  I also wasn’t earning my advances back – meaning I wasn’t selling enough copies to earn back my advances and go into royalties – and I didn’t expect my publisher to renew my contract, which they didn’t.  So I wrote a final novel that I felt wrapped up some things and gave Benjamin Justice a chance to find some peace in his life.  Many years ago, at a reading at A Different Light Books in West Hollywood, a teenage boy came up afterward and told me how important the books were to him, because he’d come from a childhood with a violent, alcoholic father, as Justice did.   “I find him inspiring,” the boy told me, “because he always tries to do the right thing and he always perseveres in the end.  But he has so many problems.  Are you ever going to let him be happy?”  I wrote my final Justice novel for that boy.

My favorite Benjamin Justice novel is Justice at Risk, which (I feel) is one of the most suspenseful, brutal, yet deeply personal Justice novels of the series; What has been readers reaction to the terror Benjamin had to endure, to become the man he is by the last novel?  

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Justice at Risk was the third novel in the series, following Revision of Justice, which I consider the weakest of the bunch.  I think I regained my footing with the third one.  I don’t recall too much response either way from readers, though it is one of the darkest and most disturbing of the Justice novels, and deals with some provocative themes.  I do remember that it got some very positive reviews and won a Lammy. It dealt with some very deep issues, inside and outside the gay community, including the notion that a certain class of people with vast wealth live above the law and literally get away with murder.  If it resonated with some readers, it might be because I tapped some very strong personal views and feelings about the world and how it works, especially regarding social justice, and found a story strong enough to support it.

Have you considered revisiting the character of Benjamin Justice in another novel?

Every once in a while the idea pokes me.  But I’m very involved now with writing a standalone, written in the third person, alternating past and present, a hybrid of mystery, suspense and multi-generational drama.  That’s enough right now, along with the occasional short story for an anthology or publication like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, where I get published now and then.  In college, I wrote my first fiction in the short form, so I’ve kind of come full circle.  But regarding a return of Benjamin Justice, I would never rule anything out.  That’s one great thing about writing: If you’ve got the discipline, patience, passion, and imagination, you can embark on your own creative journeys and adventures, with endless possibilities.

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.

I’m flattered to be asked, so thank you, and thanks to anyone who’s tuned in.

Find John Morgan Wilson on the web:

Sorry, no website at this time, and I’m woefully inattentive to my Facebook page, which I probably should close down.  Sorry to anyone who might have tried to reach me through FB in the last year or two. Contacting me through Bold Stroke Books is probably your best bet.