This week I get to interview one of my favorites, the ever enigmatic and delightful, author Neil Plakcy – interview by Jon Michaelsen;
Neil, where do you live?
A townhouse in Hollywood, Florida, a mile or so inland from the ocean, with my partner and our golden retriever.
Writers rarely like to toot their own horn; seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
I think it’s the way that I combined the coming out story with the mystery in Mahu, the first of my mystery novels about Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. I’d read a lot of gay mysteries by then, and all the detectives had already been out in their personal and/or work lives. I wanted to show how the process of solving cases can relate to a hero’s figuring out his own life.
I’m a college English professor, so a great deal of my life revolves around reading and writing, often with my dog curled up beneath my desk. I try to write for an hour or so every day, usually stopping in at Starbucks on my way to school. I use the voice recorder on my phone for funny bumper stickers and snatches of description. I get a lot of inspiration for my golden retriever mysteries just from watching my dog. (His royalties come in the form of treats and belly rubs.)
What inspires and challenges you most in writing?
I’m a romantic, and so I’m continually thinking about how we fall in love and how we stay in love in the face of obstacles, both internal and external. For my Hawaii mysteries, I’m inspired by life in the tropics (which I experience in Florida), by news of the islands, and by all the unique characteristics of Hawaii – everything from sexy paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) to leis to surfers and a hundred other cool things.
You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers and fellow writers) would like to know: Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?
I work on a principle I learned in graduate school, based on screenplay structure. I start out with one or more characters in a situation, then look forward to the first plot point, about 1/3 of the way through the book, when something changes the trajectory of the story. For example, for Kimo in the Mahu series, it can be discovery of a clue that sends the investigation in a different direction. I work my way toward that point, writing scenes and moving the story forward, and hope by the time I get there I know what the second plot point is, another third of the way through. By the time I get there, I hope I know who the villain is, what his/her motivation is, and what the climactic action is going to be. But that doesn’t always happen, and sometimes I have to go back and rethink the plot to make it work. I can’t plot out too rigidly or I get bored – writing is hard work, and my reward for the work is learning how the story comes out. If I already knew before I started, I wouldn’t have the motivation to do the work. I usually do at least three drafts of a book – more if I have lost my way and have to rethink.
You currently have some highly popular gay mystery/thriller series known to fans as the “Mahu” and “Have Body, Will Guard” mysteries, the latter with more of a romantic angle. How do you sustain serialized, continuing characters?
I love these characters, and love seeing how their lives evolve. In the Mahu books, Kimo is going through the arc that many gay men do – coming out to himself and others, making gay friends, starting to date, falling in love, having love drama, finding Mr. Right and settling down, then dealing with all the issues that come with couples. Now he and his partner are becoming dads. All that feeds into the mystery plots—I try to give him cases that will challenge him based on where he is in life.
In the Have Body, Will Guard books, I’m walking a tightrope between romance and adventure. I wanted to write the kind of gay heroes I didn’t see much in contemporary fiction – strong, daring and smart, committed to helping others. But at the same time I recognize they’re a couple in love and I look for ways to challenge them. What if a client is attracted to one (or both) of them? What if Aidan, the former teacher, considers giving up being a bodyguard to return to teaching? A fan mentioned to me a while ago that while the Mahu books have a lot of family background, Aidan and Liam exist on their own. So their next adventure brings them into contact with their families – and highlights their different feelings about family.
You also have published numerous gay romance and erotica titles; can you share any that have mystery/thriller/suspense sub-plots?
Mi Amor, one of my romance novels from Loose Id, has a subplot involving Russian gangsters, and my self-pubbed The Russian Boy is about the theft of a painting. The Guardian Angel of South Beach, a novella from Loose Id, is about a gay guy who takes some magic pills that bulk him up to become a crime-fighter.
I’ve been very fortunate to have experienced little overt homophobia – but I live and work in a very liberal environment.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Dark chocolate. Microbrewed beer. And time to myself!
Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?
As I mentioned, I write multiple drafts of books. So right now I have a solid first draft on my computer for GHOST SHIP, the next Mahu Investigation. A powerboat carrying nuclear material washes up on the shore of Oahu, with a young couple and their infant twins dead. As a new father himself, Kimo’s very moved by this case and investigating it takes him out of his comfort zone.
The next Have Body, Will Guard, THE NOBLEST VENGEANCE, sends Aidan and Liam to Turkey and then back home to New Jersey as they protect Aidan’s distant cousins from danger.
I’ve also finished a draft of the next golden retriever mystery, and I’m working right now on a romance follow up to this year’s LOVE ON SITE. I’m having a lot of fun creating sexy love stories for a group of recent college graduates on South Beach.
Find Neil Plakcy on the web: