An Interview with the Iconic Donald Strachey Creator, Writer Richard Stevenson

Richard Stevenson Interview by Matthew Moore.

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 really want to know.

Where do you live?

Mostly I live in Becket, Mass., a hill town in the Berkshires. Joe Wheaton and I have a great converted barn that luckily somebody else went broke converting. Three months out of most years, including this one, we live in Bangkok, Thailand. We’re in Bangkok now, until April 12. We are crazy about this place and now have a lot of friends here, Farang and Thai. It’s a perfect way to escape a chunk of the New England winter. (See THE 38 MILLION DOLLAR SMILE, which is set here.)


Writers rarely like to toot their own horns; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment as a writer was the day in 1980 when I sat down with a pack of Merits and wrote the first page of DEATH TRICK, the first Strachey book. I knew I was onto something and I was right. I wrote it in about eight weeks in a nicotine haze. (I quit smoking after delivering the manuscript of ICE BLUES in July, 1984.)

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

My home life with Joe (together since 1990) is pretty routine. I write and he’s often in his studio (he’s a metal sculptor) or doing video work. We like to dine out with friends and to travel. I was once in the Peace Corps, so we are good at traveling cheaply without endangering ourselves or getting poisoned.

What inspires and challenges you most in writing?

The thing that inspires me in my writing is the variety and vicissitudes of American gay life. It is endlessly fascinating to me. The biggest challenge is getting off my ass and starting another book. (I also do some reviewing and other journalism for the Washington Post and other places.)

You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge our readers (and fellow writers): Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?

Do I plot out the books? More or less, mostly less. I know who the main characters are and what the crime or big problem is and roughly how it’s all going to turn out. But the writing is more fun if I have to join Strachey in puzzling through it all. A detailed outline sounds too much like WORK. Or school. When I was in grad school, the Peace Corps recruiter came by in the fall of 1961, and I signed up on the spot.


You currently have The Don Strachey mysteries that you’ve been writing since 1981; how do you sustain serialized, continuing characters?

It’s easy to sustain serial characters if, as is true with Strachey and Timmy, they don’t age. They have been in their forties for 35 years, a feat I have not managed to duplicate (I am a sprightly 77).  I told my first editor at St, Martin’s, Michael Denneny, that I planned on having the pair age with me. He said, oh, no, readers won’t want to read about an old fart detective. Some readers find this odd—I know I do—but there you are. If they were suddenly elderly, that wouldn’t make sense either.

I asked this of Dorien Grey shortly before he passed away and I hate asking it of you. You mentioned that it would be weird if Strachey was suddenly older but I’m curious if you plan on writing an end to the series like Hansen did in A Country of Old Men, or leave it open ended? Again I hate asking such a morbid question especially since I would love to have all my favorite authors live forever.

However, my situation is complicated somewhat, inasmuch as I am immortal. Oh, wait….

No, not immortal, but so far very lucky to be generally healthy and I have my marbles. I did have prostate cancer four years ago. It was caught early, I had surgery, and I am fine. I have thought about giving Strachey or Timmy prostate cancer (you don’t have to be old to get it). It would fit right in with my style, as the aftermath involves a certain amount of black comedy. You find, for instance, that you wish to try every means available to get your erection back. And there are a variety of means. (Is this TMI?) Anyway, the answer to your excellent question is, I have no current plan to end the series with the death of Strachey or Timmy. Though at some point I may be obliged to come up with one in a hurry.

What was your inspiration for the incredible Donald Strachey?

The inspiration for Strachey was an unmet need. There had been a few gay fictional detectives previously, most notably Joseph Hansen’s superb Dave Brandstetter mysteries. But none of these books seemed to me to reflect the loose, high-spirited, politically assertive post-Stonewall era. I wanted to do that and also to bring some wit and lightness to the genre. Mysteries have to be serious, but they don’t always have to be glum.


The Donald Strachey mysteries have been adapted to the small screen by Here!TV with Third Man Out in 2005, Shock to the System in 2006, On the Other Hand, Death in 2008 and Ice Blues in 2008 starring Chad Allen as Strachey. In the book, The Last Thing I Saw, was about an author that had a terrible time working with a small, independent gay network. Was this semi-autobiographical?

Was THE LAST THING I SAW autobiographical? Yes and no. It was a nasty satire of a gay TV network, and I was angry (could you tell?) at HereTV, which had filmed four of the Strachey books. Those guys are a bunch of cheap, clueless, conniving creeps. But in the book I made up all the characters, and of course the plot itself. The book is a bit over the top, and I do wonder if I went too far with the caustic satire. It’s true that revenge is a dish best served cold. By the way, I thought Chad Allen was really good as Strachey. My problem was with the scripts (I didn’t write them), and the awful director.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia when it comes to your books, and if so, what form has it taken?

Any problem with homophobia surrounding the books? Oddly, no. Or maybe it’s not so odd. I live in the Gay Peoples Republic of Massachusetts and maybe I’m in a bubble that Arkansans, say, lack.

Who have your role models as an author been? And what books are currently on your reading list?

My role models as a writer? Mainly, I guess, Elmore Leonard, though I could never come anywhere near his ripe flavorsome wonderfulness. (In WHY STOP AT VENGEANCE? I had a character, Mopey Dupree, who, as I was writing him, felt like an Elmore Leonard character, and I had to go back leafing through Leonard to make sure I hadn’t plagiarized Dupree, which even sounds like a Leonard name.) My early mystery writer influences were the great Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald and Gregory McDonald. The last mystery I read was BANGKOK ASSET, the newest book by John Burdett, who writes a keen and entertaining series with a Thai police detective. Currently I’m reading Ron Chernow’s excellent (and lengthy) biography of Alexander Hamilton. It’s amazing how U.S. politics in the 1790s are identical to today’s. Liar!  Crook! Etc.

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

The latest Strachey book is WHY STOP AT VENGEANCE?, which came out last April. I’m at work on Strachey-15, about a gay web site whose co-owner is murdered, and am aiming for a fall 2016 publication, but we’ll see how it goes. You never know.


And where can readers buy your novels?

The Strachey books are available in some bookstores, from the publisher MLR Press (which does mostly gay romance, but also some mysteries) and of course from the mighty monolith Amazon.

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