A Conversation with Multi-Genre Author & two time Lammy Finalist, Steve Neil Johnson

Steve, 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 perfect neighborhood for a mystery writer, Brentwood in Los Angeles; my home is almost literally in the shadow of the O.J. Simpson murder scene, and just a block down the mean streets from where Raymond Chandler once lived.  The gangster Mickey Cohen’s house, which was bombed by gang rivals, is nearby too.  The great thing about L.A. is that under the sunny sky there is always a dark side if you know where to look for it.

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

I’m actually a newlywed.  My husband Lloyd and I just got married this fall on the edge of a cliff (hopefully not a metaphor for nuptials in general) overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve been together since before most people on this planet were even born, our wedding day taking place a few days after our twenty-five year anniversary.  You’ve asked me not to get too personal, so I won’t go into whether married sex is better.

When did you begin writing? Publishing?  

I’ve always been interested in telling stories, in fact, books and movies were all I could think about growing up.  I wrote a couple of books that didn’t sell before I wrote my first published work, FINAL ATONEMENT, in my early thirties.  It was released by Penguin in 1992.

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In the early ‘90s you released the Homicide Detective Doug Orlando mystery series – recently re-released for a new generation – which include Final Atonement, a Lambda Literary Award finalist for gay mystery, and False Confessions, with Det. Orlando tracking a serial killer “who leaves his victims naked but for dozens of long, murderous needles”: Any plans in the future to revisit Doug Orlando?

Re-released for a new generation?  Jon, you’re making me feel old!  But yes, I get a huge kick out of the fact that people who were toddlers when the books originally came out are reading them now.  I don’t know if I could write any more Doug Orlando novels because the books are quintessential New York political novels, and I haven’t lived there since the late 1980s.  I don’t know if I could capture the nuances of N.Y. political life today without living there.

Two of your mystery novels were finalists for the Lambda Literary Award; Final Atonement and The Yellow Canary: What was it like to get such recognition for your writing? 

I have to say I crave accolades as much as the next guy, and I noticed my most recent nomination gave me a bit of a bump in sales, which is always nice.  The Lammies were still in their infancy, over twenty years ago, when I was nominated the first time, and it was pretty cool because I got the nom for my first book.  The second time I was nominated, they had the ceremony in New York at Cooper Union, which is a great hall with an illustrious history, including the fact that Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the theater’s stage, so if you win you’re actually giving your acceptance speech on a spot where Lincoln once stood.  I thought the year THE YELLOW CANARY was nominated was especially exciting because the books in the mystery category came from all over the world… there was a British author, a couple of Canadians, and an American or two.  It just showed that really interesting work in the gay mystery genre is happening all over the planet.

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I’ve read your most recent novel, The Black Cat, the second novel in your planned L.A. After Midnight Quartet–spanning four generations from the ‘50s to the 80s (Excellent, btw!). How did you go about researching the gay experience for the decades covered in each novel of the quartet?  

It all started back in the 1970s when I came across a book called GAY AMERICAN HISTORY by Jonathan Ned Katz and started fantasizing about the lives of gay people in history.  Every time I read a nonfiction book on the history of the gay community my imagination would go into overdrive.  Other books that especially influenced me were John D’Emilio’s masterpiece, SEXUAL POLITICS, SEXUAL COMMUNITIES and later, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons’ GAY L.A.  I also participated in an oral history project interviewing gay elders some time ago.  That was really important to me, because I was able to see how gays with a little power (one man I interviewed was a closeted psychiatrist for the military during WWII) were able to help other gays during really oppressive times.  That moved me, and helped to inform the characters and plots of THE YELLOW CANARY and THE BLACK CAT.

Several years filled the time between the original release of the Doug Orlando mystery novels, and your most recent gay mystery quartet. What were you doing during this time? 

A whole lotta stuff.  I received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from UCLA, wrote twenty-five telenovela scripts, was Elton John’s massage therapist for a while, and worked in various aspects of hospital administration.  But honestly, every moment I wasn’t writing was like a dagger in my heart.  Sometimes you have to make a living doing work that really doesn’t interest you, and that’s especially hard for people in the arts because you see the years slipping away and you just don’t have the time to do the work you feel you were meant to do.  But my story has a happy ending:  now I write full-time, which is an incredible gift, and even though I sometimes grouse about spending the day staring at a blank page on a computer screen when I could be outside enjoying the California sunshine, I really am grateful.

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Are any of your characters based on people you have known? Anyone represent you?

Many of my characters are inspired by real people, and a lot of the events in my books are true.  I basically pluck people from their lives and from history and stick them into my stories.  As far as characters representing me…when my husband read the Doug Orlando books when they originally came out, the first thing he said was “the Stewart character (Doug Orlando’s English professor partner of ten years) is based on you.”  Basically, whenever the lead character has a Jewish boyfriend, that character’s personality is probably inspired by me, even though I’m not Jewish.  I also identify strongly with the wisecracking crow who thinks he’s a raven in my children’s book, EVERYBODY HATES EDGAR ALLAN POE!

Do you have a timeline – blurb or plot – for the next novel in the L.A. After Midnight Quartet novel?

I’m hoping to have the third L.A. After Midnight book, THE BLUE PARROT, out sometime this summer.

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

THE BLUE PARROT takes place in 1975, and my characters inhabit a very different world than in the previous two books which focused on 1956 and 1966…the Stonewall riots have changed the political landscape in ways that are almost unimaginable in the earlier books…it’s a time in which the bathhouses are packed, Gay is Good, and everything seems possible, but my characters are still fighting for their basic rights.  This book details the battle to repeal California’s lifetime prison sentence for sodomy, the tensions between radical and more conservative gay activists for control of the movement, and the pervasive legacy of psychiatric abuse.

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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.

Thank you!

Find Steve Neil Johnson on the web:

Website:

http://www.steveneiljohnson.com/#!books/cnec

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Steve-Neil-Johnson/e/B00JWX83VY/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425165765&sr=1-1

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5307361.Steve_Neil_Johnson

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