Interview by Jon Michaelsen © 2014
Mark, 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’ve lived in New York City for the past 21 years. I moved here from L.A. in 1993 after losing a partner and too many friends to AIDS. I needed a big, drastic move. My husband Frank and I have an apartment in Manhattan, and a small house in (very) rural New Jersey.
After being single for 12 years, I met Frank Murray. We’ve been together 8 years this December and got married on August 22, 2013. We live with three cats when we’re in the City, many more deer when we’re in the country (the cats don’t travel). We travel as much as we can and especially like cruises. But we’re homebodies, too, and socialize with a fairly small group of friends, some who’ve been friends with Frank since his grade school days. I always marvel at that, since the only friends I have from my childhood are on Facebook.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date?
One of my greatest accomplishments was caring for my partner Jim for the last two years of his life. That was hard. If I have to name a more traditional accomplishment, I’d say starting and maintaining lgbtSr.org, the website I launched almost four years ago for LGBTQ people over 50. It’s an accomplishment because I’ve touched people, had them tell me it meant something to them in some small, isolated community they live in (we’re not all in Philly and NYC), and the many interesting people I’ve met through it. When someone tells me, as they have, “What you’re doing is important,” that’s an accomplishment. The rest, as they say, is gravy.
Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?
I’ve seen this question in your other interviews and I’m glad you asked it, because for me the answer is yes. Specifically, when I did a book giveaway, on Goodreads, and especially the ebook giveaway on Amazon. It came in the form of 1-star “reviews” that should not be considered reviews by any definition. They were “content warnings” that a few readers felt entitled to put on my first book, Murder at Pride Lodge, to warn other unsuspecting readers that there were homosexuals inside those pages. That’s all they said. Shocking! When you give your book away (several thousand people downloaded it) you have no control over who is reading it. It was nice that several other readers came to my defense, and the homophobia was transparent, but it was there. One person warned that there were “graphic homosexual encounters” in the book. I don’t write graphic sex scenes, so I can only assume that to her more than one gay person in a room is a graphic homosexual encounter.
You won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program for “into the Outdoors”, a Wisconsin show for tweens: Congratulations! What possessed you to want to pen novels?
Fiction was always my first love. I was writing short stories as a young child. I spent about 10 years writing short stories and poetry, then 10 years writing plays. I fell into children’s television because I worked at Sesame Street (Sesame Workshop) for 7 years, the last 3 as the Story Editor for foreign co-productions. A good friend asked me to co-create the kids’ show with him and that’s how the Emmy came about. Once I had that I realized I’d been seeking validation for years, someone to tell me I was good at what I did, and I wanted to just go back to writing for the magic of it, the mystery of the blank page and a fevered imagination. The novels came about because I wanted to write a gay mystery series featuring older characters.
In reading your bio, I understand you’ve been writing for a long time and have numerous short stories under your belt. What was your influence to create Kyle Callahan?
I wanted to write a mystery featuring characters my own age (now 56). My husband and I go to a place called Rainbow Mountain, in the Poconos. I love it there, and one day I said to him, “This would be a great place to set a murder mystery” (lodge, cabins, 26 acres, winding roads, dead bodies), so I did! I told the owner of Rainbow Mountain about it (he was delighted), changed the name, moved it to outer New Hope, PA, and wrote it. As for an influence, I will say without shame or blush that Murder, She Wrote, was an influence. These are not police procedurals. I wanted to write what I think of as “popcorn mysteries,” fun, if diabolical, lighter fare you can read with a bowl of popcorn on the couch. As far from the brooding, dark, literary fiction I’d been writing for 30 years as I could get.
You have extensive experience as a playwright, script writer and author; Why did you decide to self-publish your Kyle Callahan Mysteries?
I’ve always been a DIY guy, always. About 15 years ago I wrote a novel and had one of the best agents in New York shopping it around. She called it literature, which should have been a portent. After failing to sell it, she stopped returning my calls. When I wrote a second novel, which was the first Kyle Callahan Mystery, I had no desire to shop it around and get the inevitable rejection letters, the “almost” notes, the “if you change this, this and that we might be interested” responses. I knew I could publish it myself and if it sold, I’d write another one. If it didn’t, I’d had fun trying. It’s still selling after two years.
I’m also publishing a couple other things, as MadeMark Publishing. My sister, an herbalist and teacher of Traditional Chinese Medicine (as well as a practitioner) and I put out a book recently of her advice on herbs and nutrition, and very soon I’m publishing (having co-edited) a collection of short stories from LGBTQ writers over 50, with a foreword by Patricia Nell Warren. ‘I Am My Own Wife’? Well, I am my own publisher. I believe very strongly each of us should do what we love because in the end we’ll all be in a box or a grave. Why wait? I publish a successful boutique website for older queer people, I do a podcast, and I publish books. And I have an Emmy on the shelf to always remind me that validation is an inside job.
Have you considered releasing the Kyle Callahan Mysteries in audiobook?
I would absolutely love to, and I think they’d make really fun audio books, but I have no idea how to pursue it, and I have no money to! Any advice would be most welcome. Seriously.
I read somewhere that you would prefer to the Kyle Callahan Mysteries to be “mysteries” vs “gay mysteries”. Can you explain what you meant?
As one reviewer said in response to the 1-star “content warning” person: why do these have to be classified as gay mysteries? We write plays, novels, short stories, poems. It would be nice to live in a world where the qualifiers weren’t necessary—in fiction and in life. Quite a few straight people have liked my books. On the other hand, I’m not stupid. Writing in a niche can do a great deal to get you an audience. If you search “gay mysteries” on Amazon, you’ll find me fairly quickly. I don’t begrudge being in a niche category, I would just like to have the books judged as mysteries, gay or otherwise.
Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?
This is a multiple-answer one: In the next few weeks I’m publishing ‘Outer Voices Inner Lives’, the collection of LGBTQ writers over 50 (your interviewee Michael Craft is one of them) with my co-editor Stephen Dolainski in Los Angeles. Up next (by year’s end, I’m trying) is ‘Death by Pride,’ the final book in the Pride Trilogy with Kyle and the gang (after ‘Murder at Pride Lodge’ and ‘Pride and Perilous.’ And then, for a stretch, I’m planning to write an urban suspense novel that is not gay, about a man who hears his daughter murdered on a Manhattan street while he’s talking to her on her cell phone. Tentatively called ‘Speak to Me’ (his last, pleading words to her after he hears the gunshot), it’s about his ruinous obsession to find the killer or killers of his 17 year old daughter. It destroys his life, from outer appearances, but he has no choice—he has to see this to its end, even if it means the end of him. It’s a chance for me to go very dark and more literary. I’m not sure I’ll succeed in writing it, let alone in getting a significant readership, but I said before that life is short, don’t wait. I just hope I finish what I start.
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.
UPDATE: The Latest happening with Mark McNease – What a difference a year and half makes. Since this interview, the anthology I mention, ‘Outer Voices Inner Lives,’ was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in the anthology category last year. ‘Death by Pride,’ the third book in the Kyle Callahan Mysteries trilogy, was just #1 on Amazon’s LGBT mystery list. The fifth book, ‘Kill Switch’ was released last August. Audiobooks for ‘Murder at Pride Lodge’ and ‘Pride and Perilous’ were released, and the third, ‘Death by Pride’ will be out this summer with the same narrator, K.C. Kelly. Just this morning I contracted with the fabulous Daniela Acitelli to do ‘Death in the Headlights’ featuring Detective Linda, and I hope she’ll come on board to do ‘Last Room at the Cliff’s Edge,’ the first Detective Linda mystery now two-thirds complete. Rural New Jersey’s baddest lesbian with a gun gets her own series this fall! I’m also now a contributing writer for the Shreveport Times (from my home in NY), doing profiles and lifestyle pieces as my dreams slowly but steadily keep coming true.
Find Mark McNease on the web: