What I’ve Learned So Far …

F80A69B3-EB13-40A0-A154-0A25E3A4E610 (1)Recently I was asked: “Now that you’re a year-and-a-half into this publishing experience, what advice do you have?” After some thought, I answered: Participate. Read other writers, go to readings, review books, and organize events. Go to conferences like Malice, Thrillerfest, and Bouchercon if you have the time and can afford it (which can be a challenge!). Get involved, reach out.

I’ve been so lucky to know writers, such as E. A. Aymar, Sherry Harris, Dave Ring, Melissa Scholes Young, L. A. Chandlar, Hannah Grieco, Vicki Johnson, Ignatius Aloysius, Paddy Hirsch, Art Taylor, and many more, who are skilled at bringing writers together whether it’s online or in person. They’re consummate literary citizens and have been very generous to me. I continue to aspire to be more like them.

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‘Tis the Season … for gift ideas!

IMG_9526 2Here’s a photo I’ve titled “Nightstand Jenga.” It’s an expression of the latent influencer in me. These books are by FABULOUS writers I’ve either read recently or intend to read soon. I recommend adding them to your holiday gift lists.

From top to bottom:

  • One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski
  • Appalachia North by Matthew Ferrence
  • Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Loewenstein
  • Deadeye by Meredith Doench
  • Flesh and Gold by Ann Aptaker
  • Carved in Bone by Michael Nava
  • Little Voices by Vanessa Lillie
  • Little Comfort by Edwin Hill
  • Hudson’s Kill by Paddy Hirsch
  • ChoirMaster by Michael Craft
  • Famous in Cedarville by Erica Wright
  • Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
  • Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
  • First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers
  • The Season by Kristen Richardson

 

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Thoughts about Fake News and Sharp Objects

Screen Shot 2019-12-06 at 11.25.22 AMI’m particularly proud of two articles I’ve published this fall: The first, called “The Femme Fatale: Subverting and Complicating a Noir Trope” for CrimeReads, was about the way the TV shows Sharp Objects and The Sinner overturn the misogynistic femme fatale archetype in fascinating ways. The second, titled “In an Era of Fake News, Fiction May Save Us” for Lambda Literary, was about how LGBTQ people have a history of weathering fake news, and how fiction may have the power to restore that damage.

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Macavity win!

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Yep, it’s true: Dodging and Burning won a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel at Bouchercon this year. The award is named for the “mystery cat” of T.S. Eliot fame and voted on by members of Mystery Readers International. I’m so thankful to Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal, and to all the readers who supported my book.
When I accepted the award, I mentioned how amazed I was that so many readers were willing to embrace a mystery about a gay WWII photographer. Later in the conference, minutes before the Anthony Awards were announced (which I was also nominated for, so I was very jittery), a woman approached me and told me she’d been trying to find me. She wanted me to sign her copy of Dodging and Burning and personalize it for her son and his partner. She remarked how she’s been a proud PFLAG mom for many years and how happy she was that a crime novel like mine—a mystery about queer life—had found such visibility.

I was moved. She—a mother with a gay son—felt more visible because of the award, because of my book. There are many wonderful LGBTQ crime authors writing amazing stories. I hope we will ALL continue to gain visibility and offer our readers the opportunity to feel seen.

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Feeling the love: Dodging and Burning has five award noms

HipstamaticPhoto-586529289.563649Dodging and Burning has been nominated for the Anthony, the Macavity, the Barry, the Strand Critics, and the Lammy. I’m still reeling from all the news. I’ll be honest with you, I’m terrible at taking a compliment, and I’m suspicious that awards don’t mean what they seem to mean. (i.e. “Don’t get a big head, John! Nurture your internal critic.”). Perhaps I overthink things, perhaps this exposes my insecurities, or perhaps—just maybe—I created something deserving of recognition. I don’t know.

My dominant feeling, though, is gratefulness. I’m grateful for enthusiastic readers, grateful to other writers and publishing industry professionals who’ve supported me, and I’m grateful for the privilege to be able to write creatively—a privilege denied to many. So, I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Thank you!

Having organized the Lost River Writers Retreat (see photo: Gale Massey, Jessica Hendry Nelson, Molly Gallentine, me, and Jennifer Bundy), and attended Thrillerfest and OutWrite2019 this summer, my mind has been on the importance of community to writers. Writing is a strange and solitary activity, a little like dreaming. It can be isolating, even disorienting.

Writers need community

It’s important for writers to find each other, support each other, and laugh at this crazy thing we do. Whether it’s a big international event like Thrillerfest or Bouchercon, or something local like OutWrite2019, or a small group like the retreat I organize, I don’t think I’d find the writing life as compelling without that time to socialize and learn from other writers.

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Oops … I did it again!

Okay, I did it. I finished the revision of my next novel and sent it to my agent, Annie Bomke. I let my baby go, and now I’m waiting for the feedback. It’s how parents must feel when they send their children to school in the fall.

Like Dodging and Burning, this new book is set in the late 1940s. I like to think of it as a mash-up of Nancy Drew and Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures, a sympathetic coming-of-age story for the femme fatale.

It’s one of three books I’m proposing about the same characters, tracing their lives and their descent into criminality through the 1950s. My guiding questions for the trilogy are: To what degree are women (and later in the series, gay men) oppressed by the dominant morality of this time period? When they buck the system and do bad things—even murder—can we have empathy for them? Can we even condone their behavior?

I’m excited to see how it all evolves!

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Happy Birthday, book! (Can’t believe it’s been a year)

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ON MARCH 6TH, my novel had its book birthday (Look how it’s grown!). It’s been a wild year, to say the least. You never know how readers are going to react to your work—that baby you nurtured and fought with for so long. Occasionally, you get a trollish comment like “The main theme … is homosexuality. Yawn.” Really?Yawn? Recently, though, I received an email from a reader who told me that, because of her job, she’d struggled to find time to read and to focus when she reads. She went on to say that she spent an entire Sunday sinking into Dodging and Burning and that it “broke her heart” in a good way. These days, focusing on anything for more than an hour is a triumph. That my novel might draw someone in and hold them for a day validated all those Sundays I spent writing it. More than that, it renewed my hope that reading can be a refuge, that a book—by whomever—can help us navigate the blur of sound bites rushing past us every day.

Speaking of validation, I heard some wonderful news this winter: Dodging and Burning received a Barry Award nomination from Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine for Best First Novel and a Lambda Literary Award (“Lammy”) nomination for Best Gay Mystery. Now commences the waiting and the nail-biting. I’ll hear about the Lammy in June and the Barry in October. Of course, I want to win, but my fellow nominees have written some fabulous books. Check out the lists and check out ALL the books!

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Listen to the many voices of Dodging and Burning …

I’M A HUGE FAN of podcasts and audiobooks. They’re my constant commuting and traveling companions. So course, I’m thrilled to announce that the audiobook version of Dodging and Burning by BlunderWoman Productions is available on iTunes, Scribd, Downpour, Audiobooks.com, AudiobooksNow, Libro.fm (support your local bookstore!), and other retailers. It’s also available at your public library, and very soon, it will be available on Audible (Amazon).

Producer Tanya Eby cast different actors for my three narrators: Ceola (Elizabeth Wiley, top photo), Bunny (Janet Metzger) and “A Date with Death” (Kyle Los). Each voice-actor brings refreshing texture and nuance to these characters—and they all nailed the regional accent. It’s been a treat to listen!
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What an amazing fall, what an amazing year!

fullsizeoutput_3c74AS WE REACH the end of the year, I’m still a little startled. I did this thing: I wrote a book, and it was published. I’m thankful to everyone who supported me—from my husband Jeff to my agent Annie to the wonderful crew at Pegasus to bookstores and event planners and, of course, to the readers, friends and strangers alike. Love to you all!

This fall has been a whirlwind. I was back at work with my wall of author post-cards glaring at me … Woolf and Poe win our staring contests every time. Those eyes! But Whitman’s a softy, always glancing dreamily over my shoulder, looking for a unified America somewhere in the corner of the cube farm. Good luck, buddy!

I was also on the road doing events. I kicked it off with the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta followed by Bouchercon in St. Pete and Fall for the Book in Fairfax, and then ended in Chicago with events at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore and Sunday Salon Chicago. I met so many lovely readers and fellow writers. But I was glad for a weekend or two in the mountains to decompress, and yes, do some writing.

HAVE BEEN OVER THE MOON to learn that my novel has been on several “Best of” lists, including Oline Cogdill’s Best Mysteries of 2018, Stop, You’re Killing Me’s Favorite 2018 Debut Novels, and BOLObooks’ Top Reads of 2018. I’m honoredDodging and Burning was included, and Istrongly recommend that mystery lovers check out the other fabulous authors on these lists.

I WAS INTERVIEWED by Jade Salazar onInside Out LGBT Radio. It was a wonderful and in-depth conversation. If you missed it, you can still stream it HERE.

RECENTLY, I guest blogged for Southern Writers Magazine – Suite T about how to make your novel feel both surprising and inevitable. Check it out!

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My First Pop-up Book Group!

I’m so excited to be coming to NYC on June 12th to attend my first pop-up book group hosted by BOOKTHEWRITER. I love giving readings and connecting with readers, but all too often these experiences rush by. There’s nothing wrong with that—no one, NO ONE, likes a reading to drag on! However, the idea of an evening discussing Dodging and Burning in-depth with readers in an intimate setting seems absolutely luxurious and immensely satisfying. I hope those who attend agree!

If you’re in the NYC area and want to attend, there are still tickets available. I’d love to see you there.

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Importance of Historical Fiction from an LGBT Perspective

[from my guest post on Art (202), The official blog of the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities]

When I came out of the closet 10 years ago, I had a lot of explaining to do.  Many family members and friends were surprised by my news, and those who weren’t still needed help in adjusting to the out me.  Although, in a broad sense, it’s unfortunate that LGBT people ever have to be closeted or, once out, have to take on the burden of making themselves known, I felt it was my responsibility to make myself known to the people in my life who cared about me.  So I went about explaining myself, telling my hidden backstory, filling in the gaps, righting all the misperceptions, some of which I had participated in creating.  It was exhausting and, at times, trying, but I was glad I did it.

I write LGBT-themed mysteries set in a historical time period, particularly DC during the 1940s.  I’m fascinated by the way a mystery story, by design, is about uncovering hidden backstory, the occluded past.  Much of LGBT life pre-Stonewall (1969) is murky.  Not a lot has been written about it, and personal narratives are scarce.  So often this is the case with suppressed voices of any sort.

There are a several good histories about LGBT life, but first person accounts are the most inspirational to me.  Books such as Jeb and Dash: A Diary of Gay Life, 1918-1945 and For You, Lili Marlene: A Memoir of World War II have helped me do more than get the facts right; they’ve helped me set a tone and begin to understand voices which were obscured by oppressive social dynamics and nearly lost.

Although recovered first person accounts and detailed histories are incredibly important, they are always limited by historical record, fixed by time and fact.  The imaginative leap of historical fiction allows for a more complete emotional understanding of LGBT people from different time periods.  By creating the atmosphere of a particular historical moment (in my case the 1940s in DC), I’m able to render the internal life of LGBT characters in a way that historical fact and even self-conscious personal accounts lack.

When I came out, I was able to reveal my own hidden backstory, to solve the mystery of my identity for family and friends.  Many LGBT people who lived before me remained silent and hidden out of self-loathing or fear of being persecuted or fear of being physically harmed.  Through an imaginative gesture that fiction allows, I can give flesh to those complex and various voices.  That seems the particular goal of writing historically from a LGBT perspective.

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