Posts Tagged ‘gay historical fiction’

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

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Steve, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

SteveNeilJohnson

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.

FalseConfessionsFrontCover

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

GAY HISTORICAL FICTION – Growing in popularity

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Hello!  This week I have a special treat for you.  Gay historical fiction author, Erastes, shares the hisotry of the genre and her insights into is growing popularity.  Please join me in welcoming, Erastes, and feel free to leave your quesitons and comments!  Jon

Gay fiction in general is a large and rapidly expanding genre, despite small and sometimes larger crucial presses having crashed and burned in recent years, but gay historical fiction’s roots are a little muddied between what was actually written at the time, and what has been written subsequently about times past.

The Historical Novel Society defines Historical Fiction as: “a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).”

That would mean neither Maurice (E.M Foster) nor The Charioteer (Mary Renault) could be included within this definition, and many more besides, which would be a great shame. My personal (and probably erroneous) view of gay historical fiction is any book which deals with gay themes in the past, whether they were contemporarily written in that time or not.

With the changes in the acceptance of homosexuality on the world stage, (looking specifically at Stonewall and the Wolfenden Report,) it seems difficult to say that gay historical fiction can only qualify if it starts in the 1950’s. In my opinion at least, events of the 50’s and 60’s are just as interesting and relevant from a historical perspective as was gay society in 1900 or 1800.

When it comes to textbooks on the subject of gay history there are literally hundreds of tomes, some much drier than others. Possibly unsurprising, there is only one major work, that even explores the genre of gay historical fiction. (Gay and Lesbian Historical Fiction by Norman W Jones)
I find it odd that so few people have explored the many stories of gay men in the past, whether in fictionalized biography for famously gay men such as Byron or Michelangelo, or for purely fictional inventions, when there is such a huge catalogue of heterosexual historical romance.

Historical Merit and Rationalisation

But some have explored those stories, and more are now doing so than ever before. There’s some argument as to what the first actual gay historical novel was, going by the Historical Novel Society’s rules, and I would have to say that it was probably Mary Renault with her classical tales of Ancient Greece. Of Alexander the Great. (Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, Funeral Games) Her wonderful The Charioteer was written in the 1950’s but only dealt with an era a few years back, the early part of the 2nd World War and as I said – it wouldn’t qualify under the HNS rules. There were others which shone brightly when they first appeared (but were published and considered as pulp by some, rather than as classics) such as Richard Amory’s strange and possibly substance-fuelled American Frontier stories (Listen, the Loon Sings; Willow Song and others.)

Renault was a solid and respected historian. Her work was read very widely outside the gay community. It was easy, perhaps (especially as any sexual content had to be almost completely coded and hidden away) for people to read these books and pat themselves on the back for reading such perfectly rendered and exquisitely researched books by a professor of the classics. It was educational. It was easy, perhaps, to ignore the obvious love affairs of Alexander. And anyway – it’s Classical! They all did that sort of thing, didn’t they?

The Birth of Gay Gothic

Gaywyck by Vincent Virga (1980) probably takes the accolade of the first modern gay historical romance. With its obvious nod to the traditional Gothic novel, in Gaywyck we find mad relations, hidden rooms, an innocent driven to the point of madness and danger lurking behind every door. Purple it certainly is (and its less popular sequel Vadriel Vail is even more so) but it broke the ice. Here was a story of gay men in the style of the Romance Novel that had been bought and devoured by millions of women worldwide. It should have opened the floodgates, but possibly even in 1980 it was a little ahead of its time.

The genre didn’t die completely, but it disguised itself yet again, this time as literature and romance. Respected authors wrote books in the genre – such as Beryl Bainbridge (Master Georgie), Tom Spanbauer (The Man Who fell in love with the Moon) and mainstream popular authors such as Philippa Gregory (famous for her traditional historicals such as The Other Boleyn Girl) wrote Earthly Joys about the decadent Duke of Buckingham. Historical readers and Romance readers bought them, literature lovers bought them, and so did people looking for gay fiction.

But still the floodgates didn’t break. More titles began to emerge, and more notably they were adventures and romances. Regency gentlemen, English sailors and pirates. However, for the main part all of these books were (and still are) published by small presses such as Linden Bay Romance, Torquere Books or Cleis Press.

When Brokeback Mountain arrived I, for one, thought that things would change and the publishers (who were still declaring that lesbian historicals were hot (Sarah Waters) but there wasn’t any market for gay historicals) would see the light.
But it still hasn’t really happened.

However, the future looks bright. There are more and more people writing it, and more and more people reading it.

Who are these people?

Surprisingly, just about anyone. Straight men, gay men, straight women, lesbians, transsexuals. Anyone with a passion for history and the need to tell (or to read) a good story. I believe that the majority of people reading gay romance are women right now, but there are (evidenced by my post bag) gay men in growing numbers who are not afraid to admit that they really enjoy what is generally termed now as a breeches, or a waistcoat ripper.

With the advent and popularity of e-books, (which turn what might be an embarrassing (for some) purchase in a bookstore into an anonymous and instant gratification, the gay historical novel seems to be pulling itself away from its Gothic and classical beginnings and is exploring other eras. From Saxon or Arthurian warriors (Mel Keegan) to the dangerous 19th Century, the Age of Sail with its infamous Article 29 (Lee Rowan, Alex Beecroft) through the Regency and into the Victorian era. Writers are researching and producing stories.

What fascinates, some say, is the difference between a male/female relationship and the male/male. The fact that gay love has always existed as long as love has – and how men dealt with that in each era, and each country. The fact that men look good in period dress (and out of it) and that carriages and pistols and swords are sexy. The fact that they don’t have to have a submissive female character at all, but both can be dominant and masculine. The challenge of creating a “Happy Ever After” or at least a happy for now.

The Future

More. I am convinced that we are about to see an explosion of gay historical fiction over the next few years. New e-books are appearing almost daily, most epublishers that accept GLBTQ accept the genre as a matter of course. Recently, STARbooks, one of the larger gay print publishers, has put a specialist call out specifically for gay historical novels and anthologies and Running Press are actively seeking gay historical fiction prior to 1900.

It can only get better. It will make me busy as I attempt to keep track of it all, but it will make me happy.

I hope you enjoyed the article, and it encourages you to try the genre, if you haven’t yet done so. I maintain a list of every gay historical title that I can find HERE, so there’s plenty of eras to explore. Many thanks again to Jon for having me.

Erastes
www.erastes.com

Erastes is the penname of a female author of gay historical fiction who lives in the UK. Her first novel Standish was published in 2006 (Gay Regency), and her second novel, Transgressions will be published in 2009. She’s the Director of the Erotic Authors Association and the owner of Speak Its Name, the only blog dedicated purely to reviews of gay historical fiction. Her third novella, Frost Fair, (Gay Regency) is released today by Linden Bay Romance.