Jeff & Will open the show talking about the return of Eastsiders on Netflix starting December 1. They continue with more TV and movies including the film Last Christmas, the premiere of the new Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, ABC presentation of The Little Mermaid Live and the USA Network series Treadstone (which stars newly out actor Brian J. Smith).

Natural Disaster by Erin McLellan and Heartsong by TJ Klune are reviewed this week.

Jeff welcomes Marshall Thornton back to the podcast to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Marshall’s Boystown series of mysteries. Marshall shares the origin of the series as well as some details about the upcoming 13th and final book. They also discuss the Pinx Video Mysteries series and Code Name: Liberty.

Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SpotifyStitcherPlayerFMYouTube and audio file download.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links includes affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Jump to Book Reviews

Interview Transcript – Marshall Thornton

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Jeff: Welcome Back to the podcast Marshall. It’s so great to have you here again.

Marshall: Thanks for having me.

Jeff: In particular, it’s awesome to be celebrating this because this November is the 10th anniversary of the “Boystown” series, which is 12 books and it’s won a Lambda literary award and it’s been a finalist five other times, which is incredible.

Congratulations. First of all.

Marshall: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Jeff: For those who haven’t explored this series tell us what it’s about.

Marshall: Okay. Well, it’s a mystery series. It takes place in Chicago. It spans from 1981 to 1985 and follows a guy named Nick Nowak who is a former CPD officer and now private eye. It tracks his cases and his relationships with his friends and lovers and all that stuff.

Jeff: And how are you celebrating this decade Milestone?

Marshall: Well, the big thing that I want everyone to know is I’m reducing the price on all the ebooks to $3.99 for the entire month.

Jeff: That’s like a two for one. I think in most cases.

Marshall: Yeah, it’s usually $6.99 so it’s a chance to get in and buy them if you like them and start if you haven’t tried them before so.

Jeff: You should go out and get them right now.

Marshall: And of course I’m doing things like this to celebrate as well.

Jeff: Which is also good. It’s so nice to celebrate these kinds of milestones in gay fiction. What was the inspiration for the series back when you began?

Marshall: I’m going to go way back. It’s kind of funny. Once in the 90s I did my natal chart and I’m not normally this like touchy-feely but it said I was going to be a mystery writer which I thought was very odd because I wasn’t really that interested and like about 10 years later, maybe 15, I was writing screenplays, writing them for about 10 years, and then spec scripts and not really kind of, you know, getting some bites here and there but not really making a living or anything. The thing I realized about screenplays is that they’re not finished until they’re a movie. So I basically in ten years didn’t finish anything and that part of it actually got more frustrating than not making any money.

And so I started looking around and found a little publisher that wanted gay erotica for Christmas. And that was a very new concept to me. And so I thought I have to try this, if I wrote the one short story for Torquere and then was fishing around looking for something else to do and I thought, well I could actually do a mystery and had loved, you know, Sue Grafton and people like that.

I was very familiar with Joseph Hansen’s work. I thought okay. I can do this. Originally I thought of it as a short story series which is why the first several books are short story collections. But what happened was I wrote the first two and the publisher said, okay, we can publish them way down the road because they had a glut of short stories and it’s like, okay that’s a really long time and they said, you know, you put them together in one book, we can do it faster. So I get that and that’s how they became books and then gradually I moved to the novel format.

So that’s the evolution of how I got started with it.

Jeff: Where did the idea for the overall story of “Boystown” come from?

Marshall: Golly. It just sort of evolved piece by piece. I mean, I’ve certainly always been playing with elements of masculinity and how some guys, you know, I mean in some respects Nick is like this James Bond/Raymond Chandler kind of character, except for being gay at the beginning of the series and he does kind of change as it goes along. I was just sort of playing with those things, the story kind of evolved piece by piece in ways that I wasn’t really expecting.

Like the very first story I wrote which was called ‘Little Boy Found’. He’s hired to find this kid. This little twink. His name is Brian and that character is still in the books, still writing about Brian Peerson. All these books later and when I first, you know introduced him, I had no idea that I was going to be doing that, that I would be keeping him. The characters have basically popped up along the way, introduced themselves and decided to stay. So some of that actually comes from just logic, you know, it’s like if you’re a small-time PI in Chicago in the 80s, you’re going to go to people who know things that you already know, you’re not going to dig out complete strangers you’re going to go okay. I’m going to talk to this person, that person, and that’s how a lot of the characters evolved is like they were needed for the stories.

Jeff: You root a lot of your work in the 80s. What is it about that decade in time that draws you in that way?

Marshall: Well, I lived in Chicago from 1980 to 1986-87, so there’s an ease and familiarity. You know, they say write what you know. Of course, you know in my spare time. I’m a private detective.

Actually. I’m not and so you know, what you want to do actually as a writer, you mix things, you know and things you don’t. So I know Chicago well from that period. So that part of it was actually very easy. A lot of the places that Nick lives and goes, you know, they’re my old apartments or apartments of friends of mine, places I worked and things that I did and so I was able to kind of just throw that in which made it very easy and certainly, you know, it is a very important period. Typically, people look at it as being important because of AIDS but I think it was important for a lot of reasons beyond that. It’s been very interesting writing about the early days of AIDS and what people were saying, you know and kind of capturing that story like a worm’s eye view of it, you know, because typically it’s kind of fun.

It’s the focus of the story and this is actually just something that’s happening to everybody. And so they’re hearing things and people are getting sick and people die. But you know, it’s like and people start to survive and start to do things to fight back and these are just people’s lives rather than being a story about that.

So that’s been interesting. As I’ve gone along I just realized how much the world changed from 1981 to 1985. You know, it starts with Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in the first story and the world just gets a little meaner and meaner every day. That’s what started us on this journey to where we are now.

So although it’s interesting, you know to write about “Dynasty” and to write about the big poofy dresses everyone was wearing and how everybody was like rich is better now and kind of like came out of the closet was like, yeah, we won’t pretend to give a shit about anybody.

Jeff: How much have you learned along the way looking at that side of things, the write what you know, but as you said you’re not a PI. How much have you learned over the years of the PI game to write the series?

Marshall: I’m always very, you know, where they have research things and certainly, you know, one of the things that Nick says a lot in the first few books is that the job is a lot of paperwork and it’s very boring until it’s not.

And he actually does a lot, I’m really surprised sometimes that I got away with this, but he does a lot of paperwork and in a lot of the stories I’m writing about him doing paperwork, you know, he’s actually searching through files. He goes a lot to the main library in Chicago and goes down in the Fishman room and is reading newspaper articles and I’m surprised people find that is interesting as they do.

But that’s really what it is. You know, it’s a lot of digging in paper until somebody tries to shoot you.

Jeff: That’s a great quote just on its own right there.

Marshall: I think one of the lines I wrote like, you know, it’s a really boring job and interspersed with moments that no one should ever have to deal with.

Jeff: Having gone from your chart that said you were gonna be a mystery rider to where you are now, were you even interested in mystery at all as a genre that you read or watched on TV or something? Where do you think that mystery thing kind of started wrapping itself in?

Marshall: I think you know I have very clear memories that picking up the “Brandsetter” series by Joseph Hansen in the mid 80s, late 80s I started reading those and those were just really interesting. It was one of the few series that I grabbed onto and read everything I could get my hands on. I mean certainly as a kid, you know, I watched “Magnum PI” and “Perry Mason” and all of those, sure, so I mean I had about as much familiarity as everybody else in the world, but I really didn’t start digging into mystery writers until the 80s and I’ve always been a big Sue Grafton fan as well. I love the way that she includes all the minutiae of her characters’ lives. Kinsey Millhone, likes particular kinds of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and she wears this kind of dress and she runs every morning and those things are actually very important and I think what I took from that was that it’s a great opportunity to write about how we lived then and capture very real details about our lives that it’s hard to capture them on their own for people without a genre story to hang them on.

Jeff: Did you plan for the series to go as long as it has with 12 books?

Marshall: No. No, I just kept writing them. The 12 books have several distinct arcs that cover different books and kind of come to an end, and then another one starts, and I just kind of felt this was the right time to stop. I’m actually writing the last book.

Jeff: And that’ll be number 13?

Marshall: I’m calling it “Fade Out” which is two words and is a nod to my past as a screenwriter, but it’s also a nod to Josphen Hansen’s first “Brandsetter” book, which was also called “Fadeout,” one word.

Jeff: Okay. I like all the multiple meetings there. That’s very cool.

Marshall: Yes, and so he sort of reaching the end of Chicago.

Jeff: Are you going to move forward into 1986 on this last book or stay in 85?

Marshall: It stays in 1985 and unlike most of the other books it starts immediately after the previous book. Usually there’s a gap, but for various reasons, things that I set up in the last book have to be paid off immediately.

Jeff: Does it have a release date yet? When people can expect it to come out.

Marshall: It’ll be sometime in January. It’ll probably take me another two or three weeks to finish it and then it goes to my editor and we go back and forth and then it goes to the proofreaders. So yeah, that’s about another three months.

Jeff: Is there anything you can tell us about what’s going to happen in the big finale?

Marshall: It kind of brings up an interesting point actually, and one of the joys of writing this series pretty much on my own. I worked with two Publishers on it, but they didn’t really give me a lot of direction. And I’ve done everything since book 7 on my own and the interesting thing about writing a mystery series is if you’re working with a big publisher, they’re going to want you to write the same book over and over and over again, you know because that’s what the audience wants and that’s actually you know, I’m not that, I don’t do that.

And so I’ve had a lot more freedom to end one story I can and I have ended in, you know a room full of people and “You did it!” and then other ones I’ve actually ended violently and then others, you know, I’ve looked for different ways to end the books and different ways to raise the stakes in the middle. I’ve kind of had more freedom to play with the genre than I think most mystery writers have when they work with a big publisher. And so the last book is going to be kind of action-packed, you know, which I don’t always do so it’s going to be… trying to go on a big note.

Jeff: As it should after so many books. You should go out with that bang, right?

Marshall: Yes.

Jeff: And maybe even a literal bang since it’s a mystery.

Marshall: Well, he’s not having as much sex as he had the early books. There were lots of bangs then.

Jeff: It’s hard to ask this of authors because it’s always like picking your children, but do you have a favorite installment of the series?

Marshall: Actually, that’s an easy answer. My favorite is “Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets.” It’s the first full-length book that I wrote in the series and I really like it because history is an important element of the books and in that book he does a case for this guy who wants to find somebody he knew in the 1950s.

And then during the course of everything, he finds the guy’s journal, and so he’s reading these journal entries that go back to the 50s. So it’s telling the contemporary story about what happens when he looks for the guy, then you get the back story of what was going on with them early on.

The two stories, the two time frames, kind of interconnect. And so that was really I think fun and interesting and one of the things I enjoy about the series is just looking at the history and writing down what happened. How we’ve evolved so that’s why that’s my favorite.

Jeff: Nice.

Has it been difficult writing a series rooted in the 80s and making sure you don’t introduce something that’s too modern in it, because I mean just in terms of how crimes get solved and like what’s available? You had it going down, you know in the library to look at the microfiche, which I thought was awesome because I have great memories of looking at microfiche as a kid right doing term papers and stuff. But you have to think about a lot of what he could and could not do in like 1980, whatever.

Marshall: Well, yes. I mean I do have to check up on things and in certain respects, it’s easier. Because I’m not running a procedural so I don’t have to think about how the police behaved in the 80s, although he interacts with them frequently. I have actually tried to incorporate what I know about the CPD from that period, so there are elements of that and it’s a lot of research and things that you know, just once you know them you just never forget that. It’s like hair evidence was really relied on for a long time and then they went oh, this is bogus and they didn’t bring back hair evidence until DNA – DNA is important to the 90s. In the mid-90s DNA starts to become important. So he’s doing things without DNA and you know, he would not have access to that as a private eye. I do have to pay attention definitely

Jeff: All part of the fun of the research.

Marshall: Yes, I mean fortunately, I remember so much of what I’m writing about. I remember the 80s. Okay Madonna, and then it’s like well, that song’s later. This one goes there. Okay. So I think I have to check everything as I go along and I’m a research on the fly kind of person, you know, it’s like I do research before I write the book. I start writing the book and it’s like I think I need to know this. Find out what it is.

Jeff: At least you get to go to Google and not to the library for the microfiche.

Marshall: Oh Yes, actually yes. I joke with my friends that my superhero name is The Mad Googler.

Jeff: I would love to see the costume that goes with that. You should dress up like that for Halloween one year.

Marshall: I’ll have to give that one some thought.

Jeff: Are you gonna miss this when you don’t have another one to write?

Marshall: Well, I do have another series that I write, “Pinx Video Mysteries” and I’m starting a new series in the spring. And probably will start another series after that. And, you know, if I miss him a lot though I’ll figure out something.

Jeff: Never Say Never.

Marshall: Yes. I mean the “Boystown” series is ending. Period. Maybe we’ll see something with Nick later on. I don’t know.

Jeff: Okay.

Let’s talk about your most recent book outside of “Boystown.”

‘Codename Liberty’ came out earlier this year, another book set in the 80s right around the Iran hostage crisis and Jimmy Carter transitioning over to Ronald Reagan. This book sounds very different from other stuff that you’ve written. What is this book about and what inspired you to write specifically about this bit of our history?

Marshall: The book is about this kid, he’s 20 years old. He’s working in one of the high-end restaurants in Washington DC and goes to a club opening up in the fruit loop.

And meets a prince who is a member of the Iranian royal family prior to the Shah that we’re all familiar with that the Shah’s family ousted these people and so they’re there, he and his father, in Washington, trying to help out and help do the negotiations. The kid is approached by a CIA agent who tells him that they’re actually there to prevent the hostages from getting out and that the CIA wants to keep an eye on them.

And so that’s how the story starts. I wanted to write something about that period for a long time. Jimmy Carter’s grown in my estimation very much since I was a kid, I think the country turned against him and I think he was a much better president than we gave him credit for and tried incredibly hard to get these people out.

I mean he didn’t have Twitter so he couldn’t just whine.

In many respects, I think he is probably the best human being we had in office in my lifetime. So it’s true. I thought it was very important to write about and I’ve been I’ve been thinking about writing something in that period for seven or eight years and it just seemed the right time because to me, the hostage-taking actually ended up becoming a foreign interference in our election, because had they let them go Carter would have won a second term because he was not in bad shape until that. They deliberately refused to let them go until right after Reagan’s inauguration. I mean, they wouldn’t even give him the satisfaction of letting them go after he lost.

Jeff: Right.

Marshall: Which is terrible. And they gave us Ronald Reagan, who gave them arms. And somehow that’s not a problem.

But I mean the story itself is actually them in this – that’s just the background of the story and making it sound very political. It’s actually a romantic thriller and you know, he’s kind of caught – the kid is kind of caught between the CIA agent and this Prince and in many respects it’s all very glamorous. But you know, it’s also kind of scary and there’s lots of tension.

Jeff: So from PI’s is in the 80s to CIA in the 80s, that’s a big pivot in knowing what to put in the story.

Marshall: I’m a big first person writer. So it’s all told from his kid’s point of view. It’s really all what he’s seeing, you know, so it’s not like I wasn’t going into Langley with Pete, the CIA agent, and figure out what that was like in the 80s. I really enjoy writing first person because it does really limit those things and you have to figure out how to tell the story without bouncing all over the place. Although in this book I do actually include what I call these little docudrama sections, you know where there’s like telexes about what’s going on with the hostages and White House memos. And I made up an entry for Jimmy Carter’s diary and things like that to keep the real political thing isolated to those entries. So you always had a context for what was going on.

Jeff: What’s coming up next? You hinted at some new series starting and what you’re looking at into 2020. Tell us a little bit more.

Marshall: Well, there’s going to be the last “Boystown” book in January. And then I’m planning another “Pinx Video Mystery.” I think they’re going to go to Vegas which should be really fun. And then I’m working on a rural mystery that takes place in Northern lower Michigan, which is where I live now. The “Pinx” books take place in the 90s and then the new series will take place in the 00’s. So I’m slowly moving forward.

Jeff: Cool. So what’s the best way for everyone to keep up with you online so they can keep track of all these projects coming in 2020?

Marshall: You know, I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I do have a website but I don’t go there very often. I’ve got a fan group on Facebook and if people join I will give them an audiobook book for free. So it shouldn’t be hard to find that. I think it’s just author Marshall Thornton. And if you have any trouble then hit me up on Facebook and I’ll get you there.

Jeff: And we’ll put it in the shownotes so people can find it too.

Marshall: Groovy.

Jeff: Well Marshall, thank you so much for coming and talking to us about the “Boystown” anniversary. Congratulations again, and certainly everyone should go out and pick up those books while they’re on sale this month.

Marshall: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Natural Disaster by Erin McLellan. Reviewed by Jeff.
When Erin McClean was on the show back in April, she mentioned she was working on a book about storm chasers. I was excited because I’m a weather geek at heart plus I love disaster movies and, of course, romance is always a good thing. Natural Disaster didn’t disappoint. It checked so many boxes for me.

Guthrie Gale is a human interest reporter at Oklahoma’s KTTY. He’s also the son of a famous storm chaser/reality TV star who happens to be a jerk. For a myriad of reasons, Guthrie wants to stay away from chasing deadly storms. Not only has he had close calls, his ex is also part of his dad’s team. However, when there’s a shortage of chasers for the season, Guthrie is pressed into service–it’s either be a team player or perhaps find himself without a job.

Luke Masters is new to Oklahoma and wants to be a part of KTTY’s chaser team. After a couple of years chasing in less active locations, he’s looking for action in the coming season. He gets paired with Guthrie and he’s excited to be partnered with the experienced reporter, even as it becomes obvious that Guthrie wants nothing to do with the chase.

What’s undeniable from the outset is the chemistry Guthrie and Luke have. It throws both of them for a loop and it delights the TV audience as some of their introductory interviews go viral to the point they start to get shipped. While Guthrie tries to keep Luke at a distance, all the time in the chaser truck and some tense moments with storms, gives them a lot of time to get to know each other. That only adds to their chemistry and growing attraction. They end up agreeing that whatever might be blooming between them has to wait for storm season to be over since they don’t want to mix work and pleasure… even though neither really wants to wait.

But when a huge storm strikes, not only must Gutherie face his greatest fear, both men find out exactly how entangled they’ve become.

I love the mix of enemies to lovers and workplace tropes in play here. Gutherie tries so hard to make an enemy of Luke and push the guy away until he realizes he simply can’t–the attraction is too strong. It’s fun how the TV station wants to capitalize on their early chemistry. Weathercasters and storm chasers are rockstars in the south and I enjoyed the look at the TV station producing promo videos of these two as a storm chasing team. I also liked how this Oklahoma TV station had no issue with two of their chasers being shipped even in the middle of a red state. Luke and Gutherie sizzled as their attraction grew and Guthrie’s attempts to keep it tamped down were both cute and a little sad since he was willing to give up something so good in his life because of past baggage.

Erin did her weather homework and that made me so happy. I scarfed up weather books in middle school and I’ve seen more than a few storm scenarios play out on TV when I lived in Alabama. The scenarios Gutherie and Luke went through rang true for me and so did Erin’s description of the storm and what it would be like. While I’ve never been as close to a tornado as they are in the story, Erin certainly got my heart thumping with her storm descriptions.

Oh, and Guthrie’s dad is a complete dick. It’s tragic seeing someone so self-absorbed they can’t love and support their family. I really wanted to see this guy get sucked up into a storm…spoiler alert, I’ll say that that sadly did not happen.

This is the first book in Erin’s Storm Chasers series and I can’t wait to see what else she does with this series. I like how she writes romance and now I love how she writes storms. I want more of both. I recommend Natural Disaster for its great mix of sizzle between two hot guys in the midst of an adrenaline-fueled Oklahoma storm season.

Heartsong by TJ Klune. Reviewed by Jeff.
TJ Klune’s Green Creek series has taken a place among my very favorite all time books. His ability to mix romance between very disparate people, the strong ties of family–both biological and found— along with an epic battle between good and evil is beyond compelling. His latest, Heartsong, continues the highly emotional, amazing story with the focus this time on Robbie–Robbie, who came to Green Creek in Wolfsong to check up on the Bennett werewolf pack and never left.

It’s difficult to review this book and stay away from spoilers. At GRL, I spoke with Kirt Graves, the audiobook narrator, and he’d mentioned that when he was at the Klunatics meet up a couple weeks before, he and TJ had figured out that he could only read about four pages at the event without giving up important details. I completely understand why.

By way of plot, I’m only offering what can be gleaned from the blurb: All Robbie Fontaine ever wanted was a place to belong. After the death of his mother, he bounces around from pack to pack, forming temporary bonds to keep from turning feral. It’s enough—until he receives a summons from the wolf stronghold in Caswell, Maine. Life as the trusted second to Michelle Hughes—the Alpha of all—and the cherished friend of a gentle old witch teaches Robbie what it means to be pack, to have a home.

But when a mission from Michelle sends Robbie into the field, he finds himself questioning where he belongs and everything he’s been told. Whispers of traitorous wolves and wild magic abound—but who are the traitors and who the betrayed? More than anything, Robbie hungers for answers, because one of those alleged traitors is Kelly Bennett—the wolf who may be his mate. The truth has a way of coming out. And when it does, everything will shatter.

Once again TJ has created a story that is very difficult to put down once started. And as with every Green Creek book, he’s created a story full of twists, turns and epic drama. Things are never easy for the Bennetts and their allies and yet through it all the power of family, a more precisely pack, pack, pack.

This book is all Robbie’s and where I liked him before I’m a huge Robbie fan now. He’s lost so much, it’s no wonder he took to the Bennett pack so fast back in Wolfsong. Hearing about his childhood directly from him gave me so many feels. His work with the children in Maine too also speaks volumes on his overall character.

And his relationship with Kelly. They’ve got so much to work through. It’s not easy being a mate to someone in the Bennett pack. TJ infused Robbie and Kelly with so much warmth, love, longing and desire. It’s everything a romance reader could want… but boy do they have obstacles both personal and ones created by the big, bad, evil of this series.

A couple additional characters I’ve got to shout out from this installment. Elizabeth Bennett, the matriarch of the Bennett pack, has been through so much across the series and yet she’s strong, fierce and formidable. If she’s your friend or family, she’s there for you no matter what. She’d move heaven and earth for those she cared for. Cross her though, and watch out. She makes an important call in the second half of the book and you see exactly what this mother wolf is all about.

Then there’s Rico. He lives in Green Creek and has seen all the crazy, wild stuff that’s gone down. He’s badass. In this book in particular he delivers perfect commentary–a mix of well placed comic relief and telling people when they are making possibly the worst decisions. While the book is Robbie’s story, Rico has a tremendous story arc and I loved seeing him get it.

The tension level TJ builds in this book stressed me out in the best way possible. He’s put the Bennett pack through so much already and after the battles in Heartsong, I can’t imagine what’s coming in Brothersong next year. I know I can’t wait!

You can’t talk about the Green Creek series without also mentioning Kirt Graves. He’s been the voice of the series since the beginning and as I’ve said before, I can’t imagine a Green Creek story without him. The emotional punch his narration packs is perfection and especially this time out with Robbie and Kelly and all they go through. Yes, I cried more than once as he read to me.

If you haven’t started the Green Creek series, you should give Wolfsong a try. These should not be read out of order. If you’re already into the series, read (or even better listen to) Heartsong as soon as can. You won’t regret it.