Part 2 – Interview with Gay Media and Literary Historian, Drewey Wayne Gunn

Part 2 of the interview by Matthew Moore and Jon Michaelsen.

Wayne, thank you so much for agreeing to additional questions compiled by fellow member & super fan Matt Moore and I for the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. We had more than the standard ten questions for you, so thank you for agreeing to a two-part interview!

MM – What authors do you believe brought gay mysteries to mainstream audiences and away from the explicit pulps of the 50s and 60s?   

DWG – By “mainstream” I take it you mean both gay and straight readers. I wish sales figures were available for Rodney Garland’s The Heart in Exile. It did well enough for there to be both U.K. and U.S. editions, and it went into paperback. However, it was not marketed as a gay mystery; rather it was advertised as an expose of the homosexual underground in London. Yet it is the prototype for what was to come. Never mind that the victim kills himself, he is still murdered, and the psychiatrist-turned-sleuth works to unmask the villain. The novel has recently been reissued by Valancourt Books. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the gay mystery.

WayneGunnCurrent_Photo by Alex Amador
Photo by Alex Amador

George Baxt’s A Queer Kind of Death was the first gay murder mystery published by a mainline press aimed at a mass audience. It launched Baxt’s career. There were two more books in the series (none of them, by the way, marketed as Pharoah Love mysteries at the time), and he went on to gather a following for his celebrity mysteries, many of which had gay characters. Then came Hansen’s Fadeout in 1970.

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Interview with Legendary Gay Media and Literary Historian, Drewey Wayne Gunn – Part 1

Interview by Matthew Moore and Jon Michaelsen.

Wayne, it is so incredible to be able to interview one of my idols of gay media! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions compiled by fellow member/super fan, Matthew Moore and I for Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook blog.

DeweyWayneGunn 1968 - Photo by Daniel Flannery
1968 shot by Daniel Flannery

JM – Why don’t we start off with where do you live?

DWG – I live in a small ranching town in South Texas. Sometimes I feel rather isolated here, but that is my fault. I’m just not that gregarious. I don’t take advantage of conferences and festivals the way I could. Part of it is my age, of course.

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

DWG – As you can gather, I lead a pretty quiet life. I lost my partner of twenty-one years to a heart attack. I enjoy the company of a few close friends, taking long walks with a canine companion, reading, keeping abreast of new gay films, and, of course, writing.

JM – You have become a very well-respected historian of gay literature. Most notably, The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography is a much beloved, go-to resource for fans of the genre and academics alike. Can you share a little about how you came to compile the bibliography?

Gay Male Sleuth, 1st ed.

DWG – It was more or less an accident. My father having died and my having just retired from teaching, I returned to my childhood home to become my mother’s caregiver when she fought her final battle with ovarian cancer. Now that I didn’t have to keep up with my teaching field but could read anything I wanted, I began exploring gay mysteries to pass the time. Even as a child I had been drawn to the mystery genre. I enjoyed Nancy Drew as much as I did the Hardy Boys, and I early discovered Agatha Christi. (I sometimes wonder how much influence the Bobbsey Twins have had on my life. Two of my favorite books were The Bobbsey Twins in Mexico, which might explain why I ended up in South Texas, and The Bobbsey Twins at Mystery Mansion.) During the 1970s and ’80s I was a big fan of Joe Hansen’s Brandstetter series. Now, back at my mother’s home, I started discovering Hansen’s “literary children.” Before I knew it, I had read something like a hundred gay mysteries. At that point, old habits kicked in: I felt the need to bring some order to what I was discovering. The first step then was to catalog the books, and that led directly to the bibliography.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Cheap As Beasts by Jon Wilson-Lammy Finalist in Gay Mystery

Exclusive Excerpt – Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Gay Mystery

Cheap As Beasts by Jon Wilson

At ten o’clock, I was trying to get the three magazines in the foyer to fan properly atop the small table. Not that anyone would want to read them. The newest was from March. I had tried sitting in my chair smoking, but that wasn’t going to work. At ten-ten, I was standing by the open window, practicing tossing my hat across the room and getting it to catch on the coat rack. At ten-twelve, I heard the elevator ding for the third time and leapt to get settled in my chair.

Unlike the two previous dings, this one was for me. The outer door opened, and he strode into my office a moment later.

I was leaning back in my chair, my feet up on the corner of my desk, my ankles crossed, a cigarette hanging jauntily from the corner of my mouth, and I looked up at him like he was the last person in the world I had expected to see. “You’re late.”

His ginger hair was combed neatly to one side, and he had gone with nice blue-gray slacks of light cotton. He had on a sweater vest, a ten dollar tie, and no hat. These kids today. Control of his expressions had not quite returned to the level he’d exhibited that first time we’d met. His cheeks ripened as he stood and looked at me. “I nearly didn’t come.”

“Sure. That’s natural.”

“What is? My almost not coming or my saying that?” He ran his hand through his hair negating in a moment all the hard work he’d apparently done on it. He was talking fast, like he had sat somewhere building up his nerve, and now it was unwinding like a top. “Because it’s a lie, of course.” He moved jerkily over between the two client chairs and then took the one on his right. He plopped down into it hard, like it was his turn to prove a point. There was more to his soliloquy. “I don’t even know why I said it. I tried to convince myself I might not come. I wasted a lot of time and plenty of good bourbon on it. But the more I drank, the more inevitable it seemed.”

“How much have you had today? Liquid courage, I mean.”

Cheap_as_Beasts_finalcoverJEdit

He looked up at me, his eyes wide. “You just…you’re brutal. Is that attitude supposed to help? Keep me from lapsing into shock like—” He swallowed something hard. “Like that slap you offered yesterday? I saw those tricks during the war. It struck me as bunk then, and it strikes me as bunk now. And brutal. Give me a cigarette.”

“Say please.” But that just confused him, so I dug out my pack. “You people. Why don’t you carry your own?”

“I usually do. My mind was a bit distracted this morning. I…I think I have a pack in my car. Probably.” Taking the cigarette I offered, he did produce his own expensive, gold-plated lighter, which made me think he might not have been lying about normally carrying his own. He lit up and sat back, relishing that first puff. He closed his eyes closed, then opened them and perused my desk. “Why don’t you keep some out? For clients. My broker has a Faberge dispenser he keeps right about here.” He leaned forward to touch my desktop near the front about a foot from the corner. “Three different brands of cigarettes.”

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Guest Blog: Author of the very Popular Boystown Mysteries, Marshall Thornton

Boystowncollection

I first discovered Marshall Thornton’s Boystown series in the summer of 2013 – long after he’d originally published the first four novels; Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 2: Three More Nick Nowak Mysteries, Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowak Novellas and Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets. By the time of the release of Boystown 4, I had become familiar with Marshall’s mysteries, and decided to start at the beginning since the first full-length novel of the series had caught my attention. About this same time, Marshall had begun to release the first few books in the series via Audiobook, narrated by the incredible Brad Langer, and offered to me a promo-copy of Boystown 2 to review. Through Marshall’s words, Brad Langer made quirky, tough, rough around the edges, at times jaded, former Chicago cop turned private detective, Nick Nowak come to life, and I eagerly await each novel’s release in the series.

Boystown 7

I got to interview Marshall for my Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group in 2013 and reposted the interview in January 2016 with updates (interview), have written numerous reviews of both his novels & audiobooks, and got to finally such a warm, sweet man in person when we both attended a Mystery Writer’s of America seminar in Atlanta a couple years ago. Numerous novels in the Boystown series have been finalists for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award. Boystown 7: Bloodlines is being considered in the Gay Mystery category this year as well. Finalists for the 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards is expected to be announced any day now. Good luck, Marshall!

There is so much more I’d love to share about Marshall and Nick Nowak, but instead of rambling on, I thought I’d share a recent blog post that says everything I would want and more. You can read it below.

How Far Will I Go?

Guest Blog by Marshall Thornton

Reposted with permission; originally posted February 24, 2016

One of the questions I get a lot about the Boystown series is, “How many books will there be?” Of course, since the question is about the future the most honest answer is, “I don’t know.” But at the same time, how many books to write and where to leave Nick Nowak is something I think about and obviously something that interests my readers so I thought I’d put down a few thoughts…

Typically, as I finish one book I get ideas about the next one. Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind came out a few days ago and I already have about fifteen percent of Boystown 9: Lucky Days written in the form of notes and first draft scenes. This is important as I have to keep track of the mystery arc in books 7-9 about Jimmy English, and of course the ongoing lives of the recurring characters. I imagine if I finish one of the books and have no ideas, or very few ideas, about the next book I’ll know that the end has arrived.

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The first eight books cover the period from January 1981 through August 1984. I definitely want to do two more books set in 1984 and have one in mind for 1985. That would bring me up to eleven—Joseph Hansen, one of my idols, did twelve in his series. I hope that I’ll write more than eleven. I wouldn’t mind getting all the way to nineteen or twenty like Michael Connelly, another of my idols. It would be nice to take the books all the way to the first glimmers of hope in the AIDS epidemic, but that wasn’t until the mid-nineties, which right now is a long way off.

As a gay man who lived through the eighties there are so many stories from that period I feel I can tell. So many stories I think are still important. One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this series has been collecting the little bits of real life that I remember from that period and weaving them into the mysteries. Quite a few of the characters and situations I’ve touched on in the stories come from people I knew during the period, in many cases people who can no longer speak for themselves. Collecting those stories matters to me a great deal on a very personal level.

There are many ways to classify the Boystown series. I think it would be fair to include it as AIDS literature. Most of AIDS literature took place in the eighties and nineties, and most of it was a cry for help, a warning bell rung as loudly as possible. Writing about AIDS from this vantage point is a very different experience. I’m able to focus on the way very real people reacted to the crisis. Knowing that things improve, allows me to focus on the ways in which individuals reacted, sometimes heroically, sometimes not. Of course, AIDS is still an issue. It hasn’t gone away. Reminding people of how it began and how we got to where we are is something I find to be vital.

I think if the Boystown series were a romance series with mystery elements—as opposed to being the opposite of that—I would have would have stopped at two or three books as I find manufacturing “conflict” in a happy couple uninteresting. Some writers do it well; I don’t think I’m one of them. Several of the Boystown books have ended in a happy-for-now kind of way, but if Nick ever finds a truly happy ending it will likely mean the end of the series.

Boystown 1 Cover 2nd Edition2Boystown 4 Cover 2nd Edition2Boystown 5 Cover 2nd Edition2

An important indicator of whether a writer should keep writing a series is sales. Not for financial reasons—certainly many writers do well writing multiple series of three or four books—but because each sale represents one or more readers. The last year has been very positive for the Boystown series. Boystown 7: Bloodlines opened better than any of the previous books, and even though it’s only been a few days it looks as though this year’s book is on tract to exceed that. Equally important is that last year the first book in the series actually sold more copies than it had since it was published five years before. The audience is finding the books and I’m so happy about that. With all of that said, I’d like to send out a big thank you to all who’ve bought and supported the series over the years. It means a lot.