Sitting down with a long celebrated Writer of Gay Mystery & Suspense. My Interview with Author Mark Zubro

I have been making up stories since I was about eight or nine; writing them down since about ten years old (this is a guess since my mother actually reads my postings from time to time). The first “A” I can ever recall getting was in an English class where we were asked to “make up a story”. The rest, as they say, is history – though it took me almost forty years to consider publishing, and I’m glad I did.

The reason for my ramble is because twenty years ago, I marshaled enough courage to write a fan letter to an author of gay mystery novels I really enjoyed reading, asking advice for a gay writer just getting started. Remember, the old fashion way of putting pen to paper, signing your name at the bottom, affixing a stamp and knowing you’d never get a response? Well, believe it or not, I actually received a response dated March 18, 1992 (yes, I’ve kept the letter all this time!) from the writer who responded with a full page of advice, who was none other than Mark Zubro.

Please join me (excuse my giddiness) as I get to interview one of my favorite gay mystery writers, who helped to influence my own writing.

Where do you live? City, town, island, country?

Mokena, Illinois, USA

Writer’s rarely like to toot their own horn. Seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

Having twenty-five books and five short stories published, and the first volume of my great gay sci-fi epic – after working on it twenty-three years, is just out; these are my greatest accomplishments.

MZ_Alien_QuestWithout getting too personal, can you share a little about your home life?

Mostly I read books, write books, nap, and eat chocolate (Jon:I am so there!). Not always in that order, but pretty much that’s it. I’m good at dull and boring. They say ‘be the best you can be’, ‘find out who you are’, ‘do what you’re good at’. Well, I’m good at dull and boring. It’s who I am and I’m comfortable with it. (Recommendation – read Quiet by Susan Cain – great analysis of this.)

Where do you write, and in what format? (computer, tablet, paper, recorder)

I write in my office on a PC. I can do corrections from my editor on the PC. I haven’t learned to do them on the MAC yet.

What inspires and challenges you most in writing?

The most challenging thing in writing is making myself sit down and to get to work. That hasn’t changed in all these years. The old cliché, boring as it is, 90% of life is showing up, is true. I’ve discovered that writing is a whole lot more like real work than most people realize.

The most inspiring thing or things: well, with most mystery writers – okay, with me – we are very busy getting even with people we don’t like. Any number of women have told me they wrote their first mystery to get even with their ex-husband. And with a gay person, there are just a whole lot of homophobes out there who need their comeuppance. There’s not a lot any of us – okay, me again – can do about the homophobes, not in real life. But in my mysteries, by gosh, they can have all kinds of problems. In fact, if you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or a school administrator in one of my books, if you aren’t the corpse – and you are quite likely to be – but if you aren’t, then rest assured bad things are going to happen to you by the end.Asimplesuburbanmurder

I’m also inspired by other people’s stupidities. For example, if the gun nuts are right and we all have to be armed to the teeth, then what happens if at a convention of gun nuts if…oh, wait, that’s the beginning of the plot for the next Paul Turner mystery. I can’t tell you more because I don’t know more. I’ve only got a paragraph done on it. And I won’t be starting on (the novel) until I finish the new Tom and Scott, which I won’t be starting on until I get done with the edits on the books coming out in the next few months.

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

It’s changed over the years. I used to start a mystery and not have a clue about how it would end. I’d follow the characters as they bumbled through the world looking for a solution. I’d realize over time, that if this event happened in the early part of a book, then there must be an explanation somewhere near the end of the book. So, no outline and no notion except what logic dictated.

Nowadays, it’s different, sort of; still no outline, really, but I know, usually early on, (what) scenes that I want to put in the book. For example, in the next Tom and Scott, I know there are two murders. One many years ago. I know who didn’t commit that murder, although I don’t know who did. But the person who didn’t commit the murder thinks he did. Tom has to figure out, discover that this person didn’t commit that murder. How he does that, I have no idea. So, I’ve got a structure that I now fill in that leads to the conclusion I want. Sometimes when working this way, lots of things have to be rewritten, changed, and edited. And I have no idea who did the second murder. I’m pretty sure it’s not the first guy, who is innocent of the first murder, but I’m not absolutely sure he didn’t do it. I’ll have to see. (Jon:Confusing to say the least. I doubt most readers realize how much goes into developing a tightly woven mystery, suspense/thriller.)

SorryNowIn the Paul Turner example above, I have the whole gun-nut convention thing. I also know I want a scene in the book at home where Brian, Paul Turner’s older boy, has gone to college. His younger son, Jeff, four years younger, misses his older brother, but would never admit it (OMG, I have loved Jeff all these years since first reading, “Sorry Now”. I love the way you have developed his character; so real and true, regardless of his challenges). But the younger boy has taken to wearing his older brother’s letterman’s jacket. It’s a tender, nostalgic moment that I want in the book. I have no idea where it fits in with the plot, with the momentum of the book, but I think it’s important to show Paul as a loving dad, and I think it’ll fit. And then, in that same to be written in a year or so – Paul Turner – he needs to confront one of his colleagues who betrayed them in… Well, again, I don’t want to give too much away.

With so much releasing and in the works, how do you deal with the constant distractions such as blogs, FB, promo and real life (like that dreaded daytime job)?

I wrote twenty-three of the books while I was teaching full-time. During those years of being published while teaching, I was also president of the teachers’ union in my school district. So there was always a paper to grade, or a student to help, or a teacher in need of assistance or union contract negotiations with the school board; well something. But I’ve discovered with writing, there is always an excuse not to write. Always. It can be trivial or monumental, life changing or mundane, but there’s always an excuse. It goes back to an answer to an earlier question, making myself write every day is the key.

As for promotion, I know a few authors who get their book published and just think the world will then rush to buy their books. Then, there are those of us who slog through every promotional possibility we can find. It’s part of the job. The writing is the key, but selling is vital, painful as that can sometimes be, and I’m an intensely private person (again – read Quiet by Susan Cain – brilliant book on just this very subject), but I do the promotion. I try to do it right. I learn new things; all this techno selling for example.

How do I get them all done? I don’t know. I just plod through. I get one thing done and then I go on to the next.

You have two long-running serials, affectionately known by fans as the Tom & Scott series and the Paul Turner mysteries. How do you sustain the awesome Paul Turner, gay Chicago cop/investigator series and the incredible couple, Tom & Scott, series to keep them fresh and to keep fans returning?

There are several key elements to keeping them fresh. I rotate writing them – one year a Tom and Scott, the next year a Paul Turner and so on. Tom and Scott novels are written in the first person; Paul Turner in third person. This is a big help in switching my mind into the different worlds, the structure of the books themselves. Tom is, by definition an amateur sleuth. This brings into play what I call the “Jessica Fletcher syndrome”. No cop in his right mind would allow an amateur such access. The ‘too interested’ person is, in your average cop’s mind, at the top or near the top of the suspect list.

BlackblueAlthough after all these years, I think it would be a hoot, in the very last final two hour episode, if it was revealed that Jessica did them all. But, that’s just me. The point here is, I have to always give Tom a reason to be involved and an in. This influences the whole plot. The Paul Turner books in that sense are simple; it’s his job. But being his job brings in its own set of complications.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Have I mentioned chocolate yet? Can chocolate ever be mentioned enough?

 

On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time answering questions fans of the genre are would like to know.  Will you share a little about your current release and/or WIP?

zubrom-330-Pawn_of_Satan_Final_Front_Cover_for_OK__9_10_2013

My current release is Alien Quest, a volume of one gay sci/fi epic and love story set in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. An alien comes to Earth and enlists the help of a gay waiter to assist him in his quest to capture the evil scientist from his home world. They have numerous wild adventures as their relationships blossoms. The next book in the Paul Turner series, Pawn of Satan, will be out at the end of October 2013. My first young adult book, Safe, will be out in January 2014.

Where to get Mark Zubro’s books:

Website:

Find Out How I Met the Love of my Life in The Face of Gay – Kage Alan’s Blog

The Face of Gay 32 (Jon Michaelsen)

 

One of my favorite bands, Tears For Fears, regrouped several years ago and released an album titled Everybody Loves A Happy Ending. I find

1988_Johnnythat I concur. The human adventure comes with a number of hidden traps and pitfalls mixed with uncertainty and the ever-looming unknown. And then there are times when we’re asked to look over that life in order to find something about it worth telling others. Welcome to Jon Michaelsen’s Face of Gay.

The Face of Gay 32 (Jon Michaelsen) It never fails, once in a while a reader will come along and ask a question I can’t answer readily as I can espouse reasons for my love of penning gay fiction, developing plot and characterization, outlining, proofing, editing–yes, I love editing –and, why I choose to write in a genre overwhelmed with a bevy of newly published authors with the emergence of small electronic publishers, indie publishers and self-publishers, all competing with legacy publishers of GLBT fiction.

A reader recently asked, “What are you most proud of?”

To read more, click on the link below:

http://www.kagealan.com/blog/2013/the-face-of-gay-32-jon-michaelsen/

FOR THE LOVE OF MEN – Interview by A.J. Llewellyn

FOR THE LOVE OF MEN – Interview By A.J. Llewellyn

Monday, September 8th, 2008

VoyeurMen - Anthology(Interview with Jon Michaelsen)

Reprinted with permission; copywright Dark Diva Reviews; Sept 2008  http://darkdivareviews.blogspot.com/

Hi Jon, welcome to the Divas! When did you start writing M/M fiction and which authors – M/M specifically – appealed to you the most when you started writing your stories?

I have been writing stories as long as I can recall. I began writing M/M fiction sometime in my late teens and wrote my first novel at seventeen. Authors that appealed to me at this age were Patricia Nell Warren and James Kirkwood. In my early twenties, I discovered the writings of Michael Nava, Felice Picano, Armistead Maupin and Andrew Holleran.

 

2. I am intrigued that you describe yourself as an author whose characters ‘just happen to be gay’. Do you see a difference between this and books that state themselves as M/M fiction?Yes and no. I guess my answer depends on the targeted audience, material or which author. Some of my favorite novels do not contain a single gay character (or perhaps they get the obligatory cameo role), yet I find that I read many stories as if the protagonist is “gay” – so what if he/she has a love interest of the opposite sex! Why limit ourselves, I ask? I’ve been gay as long as I can remember, but it took years of personal growth before I began to speak so candidly about it. I don’t think my sexuality defines who I am – so why should it define my characters?

 

3. You mention one of my favorite authors Felice Picano as being an influence. I only recently discovered him and was over the moon about a short story of his, The Married Man that I read in an anthology called New York Sex. I could talk to you about him all day but what is it about his work that you particularly admire?

OMG! I discovered Felice Picano about two years ago. He released Like People in History, to date my favorite novel of his. I couldn’t believe that I never came across his titles before. Perhaps because most mainstream bookstores at the time didn’t carry gay-themed titles as much as they do currently, albeit a very limited selection. I searched online and ordered four more titles of his work right away: The Lure, The Book of Lies and Onyx. What intrigues me most about Picano’s writing is his uncanny gift of absorbing the reader into his characters’ lives. You don’t ever want his stories to end! I’m also intrigued by his versatility in his writing; he doesn’t stick with one genre.

4. I must mention something here about your personal life. I know you have been with your lifelong partner for 22 years. Congratulations! How do you sustain a relationship that long in this crazy world?

(Laughs) I’m always amazed when people – even close friends – seem shocked at the number of years I have been with my partner. We got together during the mid-80s and the rage of AIDS was not yet realized by our community, and indeed the world. I’d like to say we met at the right time, the right place, but our introduction was far less dramatic. Sustain, you ask? I think any relationship takes hard work. Our partnership is no different than a marriage between a man and a woman, with exception of obvious legal exclusions.

5. What are the three things you love most about him? Quick…first things off the top of your head…

His loyalty, honesty and enduring love.

6. What is your life like in Atlanta and have you found it to be gay friendly? Do you have a writerly ritual, like a fave coffee shop hangout?

Atlanta is very gay friendly! At least, within the city limits and some of the immediate suburbs. Once you get outside the city, outside the interstate perimeter I-285 (locals called it “OTP” or outside the perimeter), acceptance and tolerance lessens the further away from town one drives, but the boundaries of acceptance keep expanding each year.
My favorite haunt to pound out a few words in my laptop while enjoying a great cup of joe, friendly staff and excellent music is Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse http://www.outwritebooks.com/ which is in the heart of Midtown, the gay mecca of Atlanta. In fact, I wrote scenes from my current e-book, Voyeur, while seated at a favorite table near to the window and glancing out at the tall buildings of Midtown. Outwrite is located at the corners of Tenth and Piedmont, a popular spot that manages to find its way into the pages of several of my stories, including my current work-in-progress; a murder/suspense novel releasing sometime early next year.

7. Have you considered getting married in California and can I come to the wedding??

No and Yes! We’ll wait for marriage to become legal in Georgia before going that route. When that happens – or we move to a state that legalizes marriage between same-sex couples, absolutely!

8. I promise not to embarrass you or spit at anybody, unless they ask me to, of course…Okay Jon, dish. You say you have three monstrous terriers. What are their names and how bad are they, really?

Have you ever owned a terrier?

AJ says: I have a golden retriever. In her puppy days when she chewed everything and tried to kill the cats, I threatened to turn her into a throw rug. The dog understood and has been a Stepford Dog ever since…but do go on…

LOL. Well, we have terrors, er terriers (!), but we love them dearly. You can’t threaten them; they’re up for the challenge! Each is unique in personality and smart as a whip. Their names in order of age are Gracie, Monte and Morgan and they are the of the same breed, Lakeland Terrier. I’m exaggerating some, but any terrier owner will tell you to keep an eye peeled in their direction at all times as they get bored and get into trouble at the drop of a dime.

9. If you were a Disney character, which one would you be, and why?

Hands down, Nemo! I love the ocean and plan to retire hear the water one day. My family lives in Florida. I would love to travel the currents and see the “underworld” like Nemo.

10. Do you read a lot? What books do you enjoy the most?

I read all the time. When I’m not writing or editing my own work, I’m reading and/or reviewing another author’s writing as part of an online writing workshop I’m involved in. I usually read two or three novels simultaneously; one sits in my car, one bedside my bed and another near where I happen to relax for the evening in the house. I love to read! In order to keep the story lines from merging, I’ll try to read different genres. For instance, currently I’m reading Rick R Reed’s psychotic serial killer thriller, IM.

AJ Says: Hold it right there. He is my new favorite author. He scares the pants off me! I loved IM!

Wow, what a thriller! Have you seen the cover of his new release set for October 2008, Dead End Street? OMG! The cover of the novel sends shivers up my spine! I can’t wait to read it. I’m also reading The Mistress and the Mouse by J.J. Giles, an erotic soap-opera that would make hardcore Dallas and Dynasty blush! The third book I’m re-reading at the moment (yes, re-reading since I read all stories prior to publication during creation) is the all male, erotic romance anthology titled, Men, from Loveyoudivine, which includes my story, Voyeur.

11. I have asked other M/M authors this and it continues to enthrall and baffle me. Why do you think so many women have become increasingly drawn to M/M fiction over the last couple of years?

I honestly do not know. No one was more shocked than me to learn that most of the people buying my e-book, Voyeur, are women. That holds true for the recently released print anthology, Men.

12. Can you personally tell if a woman (passing as a man) is writing M/M fic and what is the difference in your mind?

A difficult question to answer. I believe it can depend on the author, perhaps their experience to some degree. There is some m/m fiction where I can peg the difference on the spot, similar to if I tried writing m/f fiction – I don’t have the experience or knowledge in some areas of m/f couplings that would lend credibility to the story. I feel the same holds true in some m/m fiction written by women sometimes. But, I’m often proven wrong. Take Anastasia Rabiyah, for instance. She’s a wonderfully gifted writer who recently released, The Blindfold, another story in the Men anthology. If I’d read the story without knowing the author was a woman, I’d swear a gay guy penned it! Just goes to show, can’t judge the greatness of a novel by the gender of the author alone.

11. What are you working on now and please describe your writing process.

I’m in the editing stages of a murder/suspense novel that should go to my publisher by the end of the year centered on a closeted gay-homicide detective in Atlanta, Georgia; the first in a series. I have at least three novellas in the hopper that I hope to submit before the end of the year, and a selection to be included in Men II, which is set for release in early 2009.
My writing process? Scattered! I work on the story that I’m in the mood for at the moment, what ever jumps forward. I can move back and forth, work on a short-story or my novel based on where my muse takes me. I carry a micro-cassette recorder (remember those?) with me in the car at all times. I’m usually recording scenes, dialog or story ideas while tooling down the highway.

12. I was fascinated to see that on your website, you described Michael Crichton as a literary influence. Is this where you get your ‘twisty’ inspiration for your books?

Some, yes. Others include Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, M. Night Shamalyan, John Grisham and David Baldacci – and a recent discovery, Max Griffin.

13. I just ran your name through the Vampire Name Generator. It’s pretty cool, actually. This is what came out: The Great Archives determine you to have gone by the identity:
Emperor of Scandanavia
Known in some parts of the world as: Father of The Steely Moon
The Great Archives Record: A child of the Moon Goddess – Cold, determined, but of the light in the night.
Wow, you’ve put me on the spot! How about, that I can move among the living even during daylight hours, a rarity of my heritage borne centuries ago.

Now imagine that you, Steely Moon, have just landed with a thud in Atlanta. Georgia in the gay ‘hood. What one special, unusual vampire trait do you have?

 

14. Cool Answer…Now, forgetting you’re not single just for a moment, if you could conjure up any outfit and any man in the world you, Steely Moon, wanted for a hot night on the town, what you wear and who would your date be? And how long would it take for you to put out?

Hands down, my date would be Christian Bale. We’d dine at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead in formal tuxedos, before heading out for the evening later in black jeans, dark boots and t-shirts. To “put out”? Depends on when he’s called into action in his bat suit.

15. Oh you have a great sense of humor. I love it!! So, what is next after Men II?

My goal? Lots and lots of writing! Men was just released this month, and before I know it, Men II will be here. I need to finish editing my murder/suspense novel, Pretty Boy Dead, and start on the second book in the series, as well as other projects throughout next year. Also, I have an idea for a ghost story.

16. One final question while I still have you under the harsh spotlight of the interrogator’s death beam…am I the sexiest guy to ever interview you?

Well, of course!!

On behalf of Dark Diva Reviews, I would like to thank Jon Michaelsen for stopping by today…and for being such good fun!!!

Find out more about him at:

http://www.jonmichaelsen.net/
www.myspace.com/jmichaelsen

Order my current e-book
http://tinyurl.com/LYD-Voyeur

Order Men from loveyoudivine
http://tinyurl.com/LYD-MEN

order MEN from Amazon.com
http://tinyurl.com/MENwhoLOVEmen