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.
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?
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.
MM – To start with I wanted to let you know that before I make any purchases or suggestions, I reach for The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film. It has been a great aid to me in finding a true first edition, ordering books in the correct order, and reading about the books before I make the plunge. It has been a great investment.
You listed a lot of people in your preface that helped you put together the book. Is this how you find older gay mysteries and pulps that are by nature easily destroyed?
DWG – Thank you for those kind comments. I always hoped that the book would be of value for the general reader, and I regret that some people have felt the price is too steep for their budget. But it seemed essential to have a reputable academic press publish the work if it was to be taken seriously by libraries and indeed by reviewers.
As to your specific question, bibliographies build on previous bibliographies. That is the nature of the game. The works listed in the section “Critical and Bibliographical Resources” provided the foundation. Then to fill in the holes, I turned to the people listed in the acknowledgments. In particular, the four people to whom I dedicate the two sections of the second edition of the bibliography were very supportive.
Bibliographies, by the way, are never complete, no matter how good the bibliographer is. Something always eludes even the most diligent searcher. That explains why a second edition of a bibliography is always called for. A second edition also permits the compiler to clean up any mistakes and to take advantage of users’ feedback to make the work more user-friendly. I prefer the introduction to the first edition; I had to cut it radically to compensate for the greater length of the second edition. But the second edition is the one mystery fans should be using.
MM – Same regarding movies, TV shows, manuscripts, and finding gay characters not as protagonists but as friends or acquaintances that help the detective?
DWG – This section was harder to compile; there existed fewer resources for finding titles. I had to rely a lot on the web, refining my search terms in an effort to build up a comprehensive list. I’ve been somewhat disappointed that I’ve gotten less feedback about this section.
MM – Otto Penzler, author of The Bibliography of Bibliomysteries, told me that he “may reissue again. But not after 2000. Too many self-published books, e-book originals, and other things that could drive me crazy.” The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film is updated to (I believe) 2010. In your preface, you state that you doubt there’ll be a third edition. Is that for the same reasons Mr. Penzler gave?
DWG – From the beginning I decided to omit e-books for the simple reason that I have no idea how they will survive once they are, so to speak, out of print. Maybe I don’t understand the technologies, but years from now, how would one be able to track down “used e-books”? As for self-published books—frankly some of the best mysteries these days are self-published by authors just not willing to go through the hassles created by large presses.
No, I confess M/M romances masquerading as mysteries did me in. Since many of these books are worth reading, I couldn’t just ignore the subgenre, but when I realized that I was literally getting a headache each time I had to face reading another saccharine novel by two different best-selling writers, I realized it was time to move on.
MM – The art of writing a bibliography seems to be declining which seems to me (Matt), a shame. I have tried finding bibliographies for other genres that I really like, but can’t find many. As mentioned above, I use Otto Penzler’s Bibliography of Bibliomysteries, but do you think in this day and age of the Internet, Amazon, and the dreaded Wikipedia there’s no longer a need to write bibliographies?
DWG – Why “dreaded” Wikipedia? I find it one of the best resources available for popular culture, and it is the logical place to compile the types of bibliographies you are searching for, since it can constantly be added to. I do regret that Wikipedia seems to have lost its original democratic approach to knowledge. I suspect under goading from academic snobs, it now insists on sources, footnotes, and the like, rather shutting out individual knowledge and ignoring the fact that a footnote does not automatically prove the source is trustworthy. But it seems to me a marvelous place to continue my and Markowitz’s bibliographies, the science fiction bibliography that was compiled in the early ’90s, and to create new ones, such as gay and lesbian westerns.
Tom Norman compiled an indispensable bibliography of American pulps, but I so wish someone would bring out an annotated edition. And Ian Young’s great bibliography of gay writing of all types was published thirty-four years ago. We badly need a second volume covering the period since then; we have seen such an explosion of gay writing during this time. More needs to be done with lesbian literature and with transgender literature, though (as must be obvious) I am wary about lumping them together as if they have the same histories and outlooks. Yes, there are similarities and crossovers, but they have such different epistemologies that they really do not fit comfortably together.
JM – Most gay mystery fans know you from your long stint penning book reviews and writing the highly popular column, GunnShots, for the Lambda Literary Newsletter. I came to count on your recommendations to an often overlooked sub-genre of gay literature through your reviews, and definitely through GunnShots. I was crushed to hear the column would not continue beyond the Winter 2013 edition, as I’m sure many of your fans were. How long did you author GunnShots for the newsletter? Have you ever considered continuing something similar in another medium, such as an independent blog?
DWG – I reviewed books for ten years, under three, maybe four, different editors, continuing with it when the Foundation moved from Washington, D.C., to West Hollywood and the Review changed from a print to an e-journal. I also was a judge for the Lammys for eight of those years.
A blog is an interesting idea. I just don’t have the energy anymore. I have turned from annotated bibliography to writing guides. Gay Novels of Britain, Ireland, and the Commonwealth, 1881–1981, came out in 2014. Surprising as it seems, it was the first such survey ever undertaken. Brits don’t seem interested in considering gay and lesbian writings as specific subgenres. This year I published Gay American Novels, 1870–1970. It did build on three previous surveys, but I unearthed several gems that have been ignored. Plus, I realized each generation needs to resurvey its literature anew. Our perceptions change. I really would like to see both books gain an audience. I don’t think the majority of the younger generation realizes what a rich heritage we have. And that’s a shame.
JM – Are you currently researching a new project that you can share a little about with us?
DWG – Logically I should have turned to a third reader’s guide, something along the lines of “Gay Novels in English Translation” to complete my surveys. But instead I got interested in plays. I’m currently working on compiling a gay repertoire, singling out plays available in English that have significant gay characters from Aristophanes to Chay Yew. I’m having even more fun than I had anticipated rereading familiar scripts and making new acquaintances.
To be Continued…Part 2 of the interview with Wayne Gunn will appear here Saturday, April 2, 2016.
Got questions for Wayne Gunn? Feel free to reach out personally to him: firstname.lastname@example.org
Access past GunnShots via Lambda Literary archives here: