JL Merrow, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.
Thank you for having me here, Jon! 🙂
Let’s start off with, where do you live?
I come from a little town you’ve probably never heard of… 😉 Actually, not so much a little town as a largish village in Hertfordshire, which is far enough out of London to feel like the countryside, while nevertheless being close enough for all the good stuff. J
As you probably know, writers rarely like to toot their own horns…lol, but what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
Oh, Lord… I’m not just a writer, I’m British as well, so this sort of thing is like pulling my own teeth! I guess what makes me proudest of what I’ve achieved is when I get an email from a reader telling me my book really spoke to them, and really resonated with their own life.
Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?
In a word: cluttered! I’d like to blame the general air of untidiness on my two teenage kids, but to be honest, I’m just as bad. 😉
Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines in detail?
I’m a natural pantser. The trouble with writing mysteries, though, is that a certain amount of plot seems to be unavoidable! I generally compromise by assembling my cast of suspects at the start and making sure I have a handle on their motivations – then just letting the muse carry me where she will.
Have had you ever had to deal with homophobia after your gay novels are released, and if so, what form(s) has it taken?
For me, the most insidious has been the automatic assumption that gay characters mean gay porn. There was a member of my writers’ circle (now departed, although not dearly!) who used to delight in telling everyone I wrote “filth”, while not batting an eyelash at other members including (straight) sex scenes in their books. Generally, though, reactions have been more restrained (we are, after all, British *g*) but for some people, it’s clear that a chaste kiss and cuddle between a same-sex couple equates in their mind to top-shelf het stuff.
You are a very prolific writer! Can you share what inspires and challenges you most in your writing?
What inspires me? Ooh, everything. Which I guess explains the “prolific” bit! In Wight Mischief I have a character with albinism, and he came about from reading one too many books with the Evil Albino trope. A lot of the side characters in Pressure Head and Relief Valve are based on “types” I see every day in my home village—the mystery Pressure Head centres on the PCC, or Parochial Church Council, which governs the affairs of the local parish church, and I was a member of our local PCC for ten years, as treasurer. But I guess mainly it’s people and places.
What challenges me? Plot, definitely. And keeping it all straight (pun not intended!) in my head.
You have written a very popular gay romance/mystery series (Plumber’s Mate) featuring a blue collar plumber, Tom Paretski, who has a rather unique ability of finding hidden things. Would you care to elaborate for our readers or would that be giving too much away?
Tom’s power of finding hidden things has been a mixed blessing for him. As a child, he uncovered a lot of things that people would have preferred remained hidden! It’s contributed to a certain amount of estrangement from his family, and misunderstandings from other people. Phil, to start with, is very skeptical of Tom’s talent—but when he does believe, he’s quick to see the advantages to a private investigator of having Tom’s abilities on tap.
As well as finding hidden things, Tom is a good old-fashioned dowser—able to locate water. Which is basically why he became a plumber! Apart from taking advantage of his abilities that way, though, Tom hasn’t really explored his talent; his experiences with family taught him it’s not exactly something to be proud of. But now he’s met Phil, that’s likely to change… 😉
Besides your Plumber’s Mate mystery series, you have written a couple gay suspense/thrillers, Fall Hard and Wight Mischief. Each feature protagonists who “fall hard” for mysterious men. What influenced you to pen these romantic characters caught up in suspenseful circumstances?
The setting of Wight Mischief—the lonely house on top of a windswept cliff, based in a mid-nineteenth-century fort and connected via a tunnel through the chalk cliffs to the sea below—is a real place, and one I visited back in my teens. I can still remember creeping through the rough tunnel and emerging at the rusty staircase beyond. I defy any writer NOT to be inspired by such a setting! And as a long-time lover of fairy tales, the idea of someone more-or-less imprisoned in a tower (until, of course, the arrival of their handsome rescuer) was irresistible.
Fall Hard, too, was shaped by its setting—in fact, several reviewers have noted how central its harsh, brooding landscape is to the plot. Icelandic literature tends towards a very dark sort of humour, and it wasn’t until I started writing Fall Hard that I really understood why. The story is also, of course, greatly influenced by the great Icelandic sagas, and in particular Egil’s Saga, whose eponymous (anti)hero is even darker and more brooding than the land itself.
Which living actor would you cast to play protagonist, plumber Tom Paretski,, from your mystery series and why? How about Viggo, the Icelandic tattooed, modern day Viking that Tom falls for?
I am notoriously bad at casting actors for my characters! I think my cover artist, Kanaxa, has done a marvelous job of finding guys who fit the bill for Tom (Pressure Head), Phil (Relief Valve) and Viggo (Fall Hard), and I’d hesitate to try and improve on that.
I can tell you who’d play Al and Larry in my romantic comedy novella Muscling Through, however, as Alex Beecroft kindly cast Toms Hardy and Hiddleston in those roles for me! 😉
Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?
The new release is Relief Valve, and without giving too much away, there’s a bombshell dropped at the end which I’m exploring in the current WIP, Heat Trap, which will be book #3 in the Plumber’s Mate series.
A great thing about writing a series is that you can take your time exploring your characters’ lives. In Pressure Head, Tom’s family was only briefly touched on, but in Relief Valve, we meet his sister and her fiancé, and Tom’s older brother. Themes of family will be carried on in Heat Trap.
I also have some fun in Relief Valve with a subject dear to my heart: writers’ circles. The one I’m a member of is excellent, but my goodness, I’ve heard some horror stories about other groups!
Another theme that’s present in all the Plumber’s Mate books is that of the Anglican Church. Tom is a confirmed agnostic, but the parish church has a way of weaving itself into village life whether you’re a believer or not.
On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time today, answering questions fans of the genre want to know.
It’s been wonderful to talk to you! Thanks so much for having me. 😀
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