We’re talking about cozy mysteries in this final Big Gay Fiction Fest panel discussion. Authors Michael Craft, Frank Anthony Polito, and S.C. Wynne join us to discuss the genre, what got them started writing in it, and we learn about their latest releases. Each author also shares what aspects of cozies they enjoy most, the most interesting thing they’ve learned in their research, and what Pride means to them in 2022.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Cozy Mystery Panel
- Michael Craft website | Facebook
- Frank Anthony Polito website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- S.C. Wynne website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Desert Getaway (Dante and Jazz Mystery Book 1) by Michael Craft
- Kiss Marry Kill (Dr. Maxwell Thornton Murder Mysteries Book Book 6) by S.C. Wynne
- Renovated to Death (Domestic Partners in Crime Book 1) by Frank Anthony Polito
- Crashing Upwards by S.C. Wynne
- Drama Queers by Frank Anthony Polito
- Moulin Rouge on Amazon Prime Video
- Agatha Christie on Amazon
- Murder, She Wrote on Amazon Prime Video
- Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol on Amazon
- The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon on Amazon
- Mystery Scene Magazine website
- Hart to Hart on Amazon Prime Video
- Nancy Drew Mysteries series by Carolyn Keene on Amazon
- Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
- Joanne Fluke on Amazon
- Dick Francis on Amazon
- Mary Stewart on Amazon
- Flight Dreams (Mark Manning Mysteries Book 1) by Michael Craft
- Cops and Writers Facebook Group
- Book of Poisons: A Guide for Writers by Serita Stevens & Anne Louise Bannon on Amazon
- Boy Toy (Mark Manning Mysteries Book #) by Michael Craft
- Palm Springs Noir anthology by various authors on Amazon
- “Time to Curl Up With a Quozy-A Queer Cozy Mystery” on CrimeReads
- The Adrien English Mysteries: Book 1 – 3 by Josh Lanyon
- Harper Fox on Amazon
- Nicole Kimberling on Amazon
- Michael Nava on Amazon
- Poppy Harmon Investigates (A Desert Flowers Mystery Book 1) by Lee Hollis
- Last Chance (Kip O’Connor M/M Mystery Book 3) by S.C. Wynne (pre-order until July 31, 2022)
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
- Rainbow Romance Reader Report Subscription Sign Up
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this Big Gay Fiction Fest episode, we’re going to find out whodunnit as we talk about cozy mysteries.
Will: Welcome to episode 387 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will, and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance reader. We are so happy to have you here for the final Big Gay Fiction Fest panel discussion.
We’ve got three authors with us who you would not want to be on the bad side of. If you were, they just might make you their next victim. We’ve got mystery authors, Michael Craft, Frank Anthony Polito, and S.C. Wynne. Part of what makes this panel so much fun is the range of experience between these authors. Michael’s written mystery for 25 years, while S.C. who has written gay romance for a number of years only started writing mystery four years ago. And then there’s Frank, who has just released his first cozy mystery. Beyond talking about the genre overall, we’re also going to get the details on each author’s latest book.
Cozy Mysteries Panel Discussion: Michael Craft, Frank Anthony Polito and S.C. Wynne
Jeff: Michael, Frank, and S.C., welcome to the Big Gay Fiction Fest. We’re so excited to have you here talking to us about some mysteries.
S.C.: Thank you.
Michael: Thank you.
Frank: Hello, thanks for having me.
Michael: Hello, everyone.
Jeff: I’d like to start off by having you each introduce yourselves to our listeners and telling us a little bit about the types of mysteries you’re writing, and Michael, we’ll come over to you first.
Michael: Well, I have predominantly written mysteries with a gay protagonist for, well, a little over 25 years now. They tend to be amateur sleuth mysteries, as opposed to cops or detectives. I’ve done a reporter, I’ve done an architect, and right now I’m doing a concierge at a rental agency in Palm Springs, a short-term rental agency. For all of these people, solving crimes, let alone murder, is not their primary vocation. But it becomes something of an avocation because they’re good at it and they have pure hearts, and they are seekers of justice. I suppose because I work with amateur sleuths that generally you would call all of the mysteries I write cozies at some level. Cozies tend to be defined as having little or no violence and no sex. I abhor violence, but all of my novels have sex to some degree in them. So I guess one could say that I’m an author of erotic cozies, or semi-erotic cozies. Is that enough? Does that give you the picture?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s excellent. S.C., we’ll come up to you next.
S.C.: All right. Well, my name is S.C. Wynne. I’m a Lambda award winner for gay romance. I just started really dipping my toes into mystery, I’d say the last three years. I write cozy but I also write psychic mysteries. Generally speaking, most of my protagonists are one amateur and a cop, but sometimes…no, mostly it’s that, because I have to have a way for them to find out the information, and having a cop boyfriend is very helpful, so that’s me.
Jeff: Awesome. And Frank?
Frank: I’m Frank Anthony Polito and my new book is called “Renovated to Death.” It’s also a cozy mystery. I am also a Lambda award-winning author of gay romance, which has been, sort of, my thing up until now. And most of my books are actually about teenagers and young adults, so this book is the first book I’ve written where they are adults. It features a couple so there’s still romance. One of the guys is a writer, one of the guys is an actor. Funny, I’m a writer, my partner is an actor. I believe write what you know, it’s just easier. And like Michael said, the cozy, no violence, no real sex. I do have some flirtation the way there is among gay men, and I did read one review that said something about…I think they used the word blue. I think they were slightly offended by flirting, so you know, you can’t please everyone.
Jeff: Offended by flirting?
Frank: But I do like to put the romance in, sexual innuendo, but that’s how we operate.
S.C.: As long as there’s no sex on page, why can’t you have flirting and romance? That’s how I see it.
Frank: Yeah, and I abhor violence and I don’t even like to have people use four-letter words, because I don’t know, I’m a prude, I guess.
Michael: I think romance is such a natural sub plot to a mystery. A mystery by its nature is fairly heavy duty and you like to swing back and forth and kind of relieve some of the tension some of the time. And romance, in the very broadest sense, I think, is just a natural topic to turn to. I mean, even if it’s not romance, it’s just the personal life of the protagonist, some sort of development going on in that person’s character. And it may or may not be strictly romantic, but I’ve often referred, when I talk about my own writing, I often refer to the surface plot, which is the whodunit, and the romance plot, which is everything else, but it’s not necessarily romance.
S.C.: Yeah, my mysteries have a lot of romance in them.
Michael: You came from that.
S.C.: Yeah, I came from that so I’d say it’s half-half, but I make sure the mysteries are very complicated, and complex, and that’s what I enjoy.
Frank: I always go back to this quote from “Moulin Rouge.” I think it was where Ewan McGregor says, “Love is everything.” And I feel like it’s the driving force, or the lack of love for people.
S.C.: Yeah, that too. Yeah.
Jeff: Each of you write cozies, and two of you mentioned not liking violence. Is that what, kind of, led you more into the cozy genre, instead of, I guess, what you might call the more hardboiled mystery?
Michael: Yes. I don’t know. I grew up with Agatha Christie who didn’t, and Jessica Fletcher, and all that, and I mean, those are all very much within the cozy realm. To me, that’s a mystery. I know we’re gonna talk at some point about the difference between mysteries, and thrillers, and so on, and I feel that the traditional, classic whodunit is just…those are the kind of stories I wanna write.
S.C.: Yeah, me too.
Frank: I actually…I won’t say I was dragged into the cozy world, that’s not the right word, but it’s my first, and I never really intended to write one but I hadn’t written a book in almost 10 years and I got a call from my editor and he said, “We’re looking for a gay cozy mystery and we think you would be good at writing it, if you wanna take a stab.” So I was unemployed, it was the start of a pandemic, I had nothing else to do. I said sure, why not?
Frank: But I also grew up with “Encyclopedia Brown,” and “The Hardy Boys,” so I was always a fan of the mystery whodunit kind of thing. I just never thought I would be able to weave all that together and come up with something that would be like those.
S.C.: Yeah, but you did.
Frank: Yeah, and it was fun to do so, as much as it hurt my brain, and made me wanna pull my hair out, and all that, it is fun. It’s fun. It’s fun to read and it’s fun to write, and I think that’s…whereas some of the other mystery type things you like to be scared but it might not be fun, but it’s a different kind of fun.
S.C.: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Jeff: And we are gonna talk about definitions. This is where we hit that point, Michael, that you alluded to. Where are the boundaries between mystery, suspense, thriller? And then we talked even a little bit about the boundaries between cozy mystery, and hardboiled kind of mystery. Where does all that fall down? And I’ll start with Michael because he’s definitely the veteran amongst us for having worked in the genre the longest.
Michael: Well, it seems when I first started writing these that mysteries, and thrillers, and suspense, they were all kind of lumped under the umbrella of mystery, like “Mystery Scene Magazine,” and all that. It covers the gamut, but people kind of use the term mystery in a very general way. And then I think that’s kind of evolved over the years that I’ve been working at it, and now it seems to be crime-fiction is sort of the umbrella for all that. But I think a classic mystery, a murder-mystery, a whodunit, is essentially a puzzle. And readers who like reading mysteries like working along with the protagonist to see who figures out the puzzle first.
And there are certain conventions that we all abide by, like playing fair with the reader. You don’t yank the murderer out of the closet in the last chapter, it has to have been there all along. And it should be constructed in such a way that any intelligent and attentive reader might figure it out. The clues need to be there. You can certainly disguise them, that’s the goal, but I mean, to my way of thinking, that’s what a murder mystery is.
Thrillers and suspense novels get into a whole different territory, where I think I would define both of those as being defined by this urgency. And in most cases it involves the prevention of something awful happening. There’s this ticking clock. There’s a bomb that’s going to go off, whatever. And I mean, while any conventional murder-mystery plot certainly wants to have a sense of urgency and forward movement, it doesn’t work the way a thriller does, where it’s save the world. I don’t think there is a stock answer or definition as to where those boundaries leave off between and among each other, but we all have a sense on it.
S.C.: Yeah. Well, a mystery doesn’t even need a murder. An actual mystery doesn’t even need a crime, you know, which is different.
Frank: Right, but I feel, and I could be wrong because I’m new, but the cozy usually is murder. I read one and there was literally no murder, and by the time I was done I felt ripped off.
Frank: There was a mystery but no one ever died, and I thought, “Well, I guess it’s a cozy mystery. It’s not a cozy murder mystery.”
S.C.: Exactly, yeah.
Frank: And I’ve also seen when I was doing research for this, and I know we’re gonna tell you about research, but I remember I watched a lot of “Murder, She Wrote,” of course, but I also watched an old show that I liked called “Hart to Hart.” And in that one, right away we saw someone got killed and we knew who got killed, and then the whole show was about them finding it out. So I already knew. It was still fun to watch them do their sleuthing and everything, but I thought it kinda takes the fun out of it because we already know what happens.
S.C.: Yeah, but “Nancy Drew” didn’t have a bunch of murders in them.
Frank: True, yeah.
S.C.: And they were certainly mysteries.
Michael: That’s a really interesting plotting or structure issue, having the murder up front or not. I don’t know, one of the handbooks I read way back when pointed out that there are two very important, ultimately very important points that happen within a murder mystery, the discovery of the body and naming who done it. So it’s that discovery of the body is kind of slippery, and some writers wanna start with a bang and put it right up front, and capture your attention, and that is important. You want people to be caught by the first paragraph, if not the first page. And so a murder on page one is pretty good, but the point is you’ve wasted it that early in the book. I’ve always preferred what I would call a traditional three-act structure. It isn’t really a formula, it’s just a structural principle that I have always followed, at least in my later writing, where the murder is the climax of act one, which I define as part one.
S.C.: But you can kill more than one person.
Michael: Oh, sure.
S.C.: So that keeps it rolling.
Michael: There are often complications and multiple murders and so on. And then the whole middle part of the book, part two, that is by and large the investigation, and the stakes get raised, and then there’s another crisis at the end of part two, perhaps it’s a threat on the protagonist’s life, or a near miss, or something like that. And then part three is solving it. But that whole idea of putting the murder on page one, while very tempting when you sit down and you’re facing 300 blank pages, it kinda shoots the wad, sort of, early.
Frank: I’m glad you said that, Michael.
S.C.: I would agree.
Frank: Because I toyed with the same thing, and I have a dramatic writing background, screenplays and plays. And I’m reading one now, a cozy, and it’s not page one but it’s chapter one, and the whole time I’m reading the rest of the book, I don’t know anything about this person who died because they’re dead. And I’ve written mine to show this character, and how mean, and nasty, and how much he deserves to die because he’s not a nice person. And I feel like, even though it takes a while to get to his death, the reader, I hope, will be happy once he’s dead because we see everything he’s done, and how he’s wronged this person, and how he’s insulted this person. And that sets up the motivation for each person that he meets. Whereas if he’s dead from the get-go, it’s like, I don’t even care.
S.C.: I don’t know. You can, though, make a victim a person. I think the writer failed you there because he should’ve built the victim into someone who you felt either sorry for or were glad that they died.
Frank: Yeah. Well, what happens in that particular book is then people talk about him a lot, and what he did, and why they think this person may have killed him, or that person, but I just feel like they’re just doing all this talking and I would rather see than hear people talk. Show, don’t tell.
Michael: Yeah. So if the central murder, if the one that, kind of, kicks the story into action, if that takes place at the end, at or near the end of part one, for lack of a better word, that gives you a few chapters to start out with where you’re showing the normal rhythm of life, who this person is, who this person interacts with. And obviously the seasoned mystery reader realizes that they’re, up front, being introduced to a cast of suspects, possible suspects, and that’s fine. That’s part of the game.
But I think another important inflection point of storytelling in general, and I forget the name of the guy who writes about this in terms of screenwriting, the “Save the Cat” guy, if you’ve ever heard of that. And he says that at minute 24, talk about formulaic, he says, “At minute 24 of the script, which is page 24, everything changes.” And that’s when life as you knew it no longer is, and then everything changes. You’re off on a mission, and of course, in a murder mystery, it’s finding out who done it, and what changed it, of course, was finding a corpse.
Jeff: I love how you frame setting everybody up. Because I think about disaster movies, because you meet the entire cast of people who are about to go on this odyssey. And then about minute 24, the building catches on fire, the boat turns over, whatever it is, and then you’re off and running. And it can be very much the same thing in body discovery, too. Now you’ve got your cast of characters. Somebody did this thing and now it’s the race to figure out who did it, and can you figure it out faster than the detective in the book?
S.C.: I guess I kill a lot of people in my books because this is not a problem for me.
Michael: Good for you.
Jeff: The more murder the better. Why not?
S.C.: Why only kill one when you can kill three?
Frank: I do like those. I just have trouble, like…and when I wrote my outline for my first book I had plans to have a couple, and then I just was, like, “Oh, this is too difficult.” One and done, one and done. Let the others live.
Michael: But in terms of heightening…
S.C.: Kill them.
Michael: …heightening the tension and reaching that second important crisis that kinda kicks you into the “let’s solve it” stage, another murder, or an attempted murder, or a close call is really such a handy device. Think about it.
Frank: I really love it when you think, “That’s the killer, that’s the killer, that’s the killer,” and then they get killed and you’re like, “Oh, shoot. That’s not the killer.” I do enjoy that. I do enjoy that.
Jeff: I’m curious for each of you what brought you into mystery, and Frank, you kinda answered this already so I’m gonna come back to you to see if there’s any more to the story. So your agent came to you and said, “Gay cozy mystery.” How long did you think about that before you were like, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that and flip the other writing that I’ve done into that genre?'”
Frank: Well, like I said, I read mysteries growing up and I always wanted to do one, so I didn’t hesitate to do it. But I did have to…he sent me, who’s my editor, and he sent me, like, a box of Joanne Fluke and other mystery writers that are published by my publisher. And I read them, and I grew up not watching “Murder, She Wrote.” I was in college, I thought it was for old people. My grandmother loved it. I was busy, so it gave me an excuse to watch it, so I just was, like, “Yeah.” You know, you’re always like, “Yeah, I can do that,” but you know there’s a formula so you have to watch it and you have to try to figure it out.
Though I will say, though, television and visual is different than a book, so just because you can watch a 44-minute TV show, it’s not the same once you try. And I also think the thing about it, I don’t know if you guys find this, too, but in a visual, a movie, or a TV show, you can show people doing stuff, but in a book we need to know what they’re thinking. There’s so much more that goes into it. And they get away with so much more in the visual that you don’t have to explain. Though you can see them rig some device and it does something, but if you’re writing in a book you have to explain how that device is rigged.
S.C.: I always say that to my husband, “I would have to write, like, 12 pages explaining that and they can just show it in 2 seconds.”
Michael: I love exploring those differences between how stories are told in different mediums. You have movies, television, film, whatever you wanna call that, and you have novels, and you also have stage plays, which I think really, kind of, started it all. That was first. I was reading an analysis of that very topic once and it really made sense. Let me think if I can put that back together. It mentioned that the story that is most efficiently told on film has to do with external conflict, and the story that is most efficiently and naturally told in a stage play is interpersonal conflict.
And the kind of story that is most effectively or efficiently told in a novel is internal conflict, because, I mean, obviously you’re in people’s thoughts. And there are many, many exceptions to that. It’s not a rule, it’s just a general observation. But I think novelists are constantly borrowing techniques from playwrights and from screenwriters, and vice versa as these all, kind of, become…not one and the same, but it becomes, sort of, a continuum. And it’s great to think about those things and talk about those differences. It sort of informs what kind of story you can tell.
It’s just like when you start out to write a novel. Let’s focus it back on that. I think any writer, I certainly know it’s true of me, by the time you write your first paragraph you’ve made some big decisions. It’s probably in past tense. Is it in first person or third? And the first paragraph will reveal that, but those decisions have a lot to do then with the way you’re permitted to tell the story. Writing first person is great. Readers love it. It’s like you’re telling a story. You’re in someone’s mind for the whole time, but then as I’m sure you’re well aware, a first person protagonist has to be there for every scene of the book.
Frank: I have to say, though, I cheated. I always write first person but in this book I was writing along in first person, but then I got to chapter six and I was like, “Well, shoot. My guy’s not there.” So I just switched it to third person but it’s still his voice. It’s telling what happened when he wasn’t there, and unfortunately, I had some people complain about it, but what are you gonna do? What are you gonna do? You’re exactly right, if your narrator is not there or your main character is not there you miss so much.
S.C.: Well, you could do first person from another point of view. Some people will do it from the sight of the villain, suddenly you’re in the villain’s head.
Frank: Sure, yeah.
S.C.: I’ve never done that, but yeah.
Frank: I did in mine but I wasn’t in that character’s head, I was just showing what that character is doing as if the narrator is telling it still in his voice. I mean, I don’t explain that and people may not get it, but that’s my justification for doing it. Because another thing, like I said about the telling, I didn’t want to have my main character go and interview someone and have that person tell a long monologue about when they had the fight with that person that died, so I wrote a chapter where we see the fight with the person who died. The main character just wasn’t there for it. I was trying to reinvent the genre and I don’t know if I was successful.
Michael: There is, sort of, an interesting alternate narrative voice that I’ve explored a couple of times, and it gets at what you’re talking about, Frank. And I think it’s referred to as the very close third, where it’s the whole narration is in third person, and the primary character feels like a first person narrator, except that he refers to that person as “he.” And he’s the only person whose thoughts the narrator ever tells you, so then occasionally if you need to slip in a scene where it’s just not possible for that character to be present, you just stay in the third person. You do not get into anyone’s thoughts. I think that’s called a cinematic viewpoint where it’s just like a movie camera. You see and hear only what a sound camera would see and hear, but no thoughts, no internal monologue, anything like that. And I think it’s enough to cue the reader that this is a little different but it’s not this abrupt change of, say, first person to third.
Frank: I’m sorry, I somehow hijacked the conversation and I didn’t let you guys say how you got into mystery writing.
Jeff: No, that was interesting. The POV thing is always pretty fascinating to me, the different takes on it and different little ways to even use first person. To go back to how everybody got into mystery, S.C., you’ve been in this three, four years. What brought you over from…
Jeff: Well, for the mystery part.
S.C.: Oh, okay.
Jeff: What brought you from gay romance to wanting to do mysteries, both psychic mysteries and, I guess, what we might call contemporary mysteries without the psychic angle?
S.C.: Yeah. Well, I love mystery. I grew up watching mystery, reading mystery. I love Dick Francis, Mary Stewart, all sorts of…Agatha Christie, all the basics. And I always had some suspense in my…not always, but a lot of the time in my gay romance stories. I was just, kind of, dabbling in it. But then I was like, “You know what? You can do this. Just do it. You can always figure out every single mystery you ever watch or read.” I can almost always figure them out. So it’s like, “Just do what you would love to do,” and so I jumped in. I have 12 mysteries now, so I’ve been going full force on this. But I’m also not done with gay romance. I love writing just gay romance as well, but I just get bored easily and I like to jump around, but that’s what got me into it probably.
Jeff: That’s very cool. And then, Michael, for you, what got you started going down the mystery path?
Michael: Well, I didn’t choose mysteries, the mysteries chose me. It’s a little like Frank’s story. My first book, which was published 29 years ago, was not a mystery. It was a slim, little literary paperback, and it was published by a small gay press in San Diego. It never did anything in terms of sales or reviews, but it got me over that hump of being unpublished. And so I started working on a second novel, a bigger novel, and I still kind of fancied it as being literature but it had definite elements of mystery to it. And I finally got lucky in that I landed an agent with a reputable New York agency and he said, “You know what? Since you’ve already said that this has elements of mystery to it, why don’t we just try to market it as a mystery? I know someone who’s in the market for gay mysteries.” This was in the late ’90s, mid to late ’90s, and Kensington Books had not published a gay title yet. And John Scognamiglio, who’s now a big guy there, wanted a gay mystery series.
Frank: John is my editor who wanted a gay cozy.
Michael: Well, there you go.
Frank: That explains it, good, old John.
Michael: And so, Mitchell, my agent who knew John, after I had signed on with Mitchell, he got back to me, I think, 10 days later and said, “I’ve got a three-book contract for you and so now you’re gonna learn to write mysteries.” And so I worked with John on, sort of, rethinking that manuscript that was in hand. It became “Flight Dreams,” which was the first “Mark Manning” mystery, and the first gay title Kensington published. And then it was interesting because it was billed as being the start of a series, I had to write another. And so I thought about it and thought about it, really struggled with it and thought, “Okay, I can do this.” And I came up with this huge, thick book, and sent in the manuscript, and it was like, “That’s not gonna do it at all.”
John kind of read me the riot act and said, “We will have a body by chapter 5 or page 100, whichever comes first. We will bury the exposition and only dole it out in little bits, bite-sized chunks as needed by the reader to understand the current context of the reader,” and so on, and so on. He kind of spelled it out for me and I was like, “Oh, gee, why didn’t I think of that?” And from that point forward the die was cast, I was writing gay murder mysteries and proper whodunits.
Jeff: That’s awesome, and I love that you and Frank share John between you as part of your history. That’s really cool.
I’m curious for each of you, kind of, what is the funnest part as you’re writing the mystery? Is it stringing the clues? Is it killing the person? What is it? S.C., we’ll come to you to start that one off.
S.C.: Oh, well, naturally killing off people is fun. I sometimes take people who I hate in real life and I kind of write them in and maybe knock them off, or just make fun of them. And I also like laying out the red herrings and trying to trick the reader into thinking they know who the person is, and of course they’re wrong, but I like keeping them guessing. I think that’s fun.
Jeff: I love that part when I’m reading and it’s like, “Oh, I fell for the red herring. Darn it.” But then I also like it, too, when I don’t get it figured out, that I can easily track it back and go, “Oh, well, of course that’s who that is.”
S.C.: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: Frank, how about for you? You’ve got your first mystery under your belt now. What was the funnest part?
Frank: Well, I think with all my books, this is, I think, my fifth book, the fun for me is I always base the character on me, and the other characters are people that I know, and the places are places that I know or where I live. But I take three people and combine them into one, and for me, it’s fun to, like, what part of this person can I take? What part of this person? And it’s even more fun when people read it and they’re like, “Oh, I know who that is,” or, “I know who that is,” or, “Why did you say that about me?” And I’m like, “That wasn’t you.” But also, in my second book that I’m finishing now, my victim is based on someone that I did not like at all, and this is, sort of, my way of getting my revenge on that person. Part of me feels like, why am I giving him the time of day for it?
S.C.: Cause it’s fun.
Frank: But it feels good. It feels good when he dies, because I abhor violence and I would never wish someone ill will to the extent I’ve gone, but it is nice to make up a world and be the god who we get to decide everything that goes into it.
Jeff: You two have definitely proven the adage of be careful what you do around a writer or to a writer because you may end up as a dead body in the book somewhere.
Frank: Better in the book than for real.
Jeff: Right. Michael, how about for you? What’s the fun part?
Michael: I enjoy writing the first draft, the actual writing of it. I also enjoy the plotting of it and working out of the details. I’m an outliner. I don’t know if we’re getting into that or not. That’s all part of it, and I love editing, and I like rewriting and all that. But the real creative process, I think, is in the first draft and putting the words down on paper, because I am an outliner. I don’t write sentence one until I’ve got the whole story in synopsis form and in my head.
Michael: So when it’s time to draft it’s a very intensive period, and I do it every day. I usually spend three or four hours on it. That’s all I can do in a day because I find writing to be physically exhausting as well as emotional.
S.C.: It is, yeah.
S.C.: It is.
Michael: But to see the story actually take shape on the page, and to be finessing the narrative and just working the words on the page, I love that. That’s the part I enjoy most, just seeing that happen, watching that happen day after day. It’s great.
S.C.: Yeah, I don’t outline when I write gay romance, but when I do mystery I definitely outline. You have to outline. I don’t do a super, super detailed one like you, and things change constantly, but I do do an outline, absolutely you have to, I think.
Jeff: Looking at the challenges, and I’ll start this back with you, Michael, what do you find to be the challenges when you’re working on the mysteries?
Michael: The main challenge, for me, the hardest part, and because it’s such an unknown, is the inspiration, the what’s it about. Waiting for that, kind of, a-ha moment when you find that germ of an idea that convinces you it’s worth the time and effort to develop it into a novel. And I find those moments precious. They can’t be planned or forced. For me, that embodies the truly magical aspect of creating something out of nothing. But you can’t practice for it, you just have to wait for it and hope that it happens, so that is the most challenging by far.
Jeff: I love that. To pull on that just a little bit, S.C., I’m curious with you because you write in these, both romance and mystery, is it easier to come up with the inspiration for one over the other?
S.C.: For me, I try to keep it really balanced. I don’t want it to be too much of either. I think the challenge for me is just that mystery can get very dry if you’re just, like, following the clues. To keep it entertaining for the reader and interweaving the romance without boring the mystery readers and boring the romance readers, just trying to keep it evenly balanced to where they’re getting both, and just basically trying to make the mystery entertaining, not just dry. That’s challenging for me.
Frank: I think the challenge for me actually writing, and I think everything I’ve ever written I’ve done this. I have to know what day…maybe not what year, but I need to know what month and day this scene is happening on, and what month and day this next scene is happening on. And specifically in the mystery, I write my outline, but literally chapter one, and I put a parenthesis with what that date is, and then the next one, because I have to know. I literally have to know what’s going on. And realistically, and I’m very much about continuity and keeping track of that. I started trying to have a little sheet. I don’t know what they call it, I can’t think of it, where you literally write how so and so knows so and so, and how long they’ve known each other, and what they look like, and whatever.
Because you’ll change things and then you forget you changed it. And then I had this thing in book two that I wrote that I swore happened in book one, and I checked book one and it may have been there at one point but it got deleted and it’s not there anymore. Because you have an editor, and you have a copyeditor, and you have a proofreader, but you have to trust yourself, and you know your story better than anyone else. And if there’s a major mistake it’s all on you, and that’s when it hurts my brain to keep track of all that. My cover copy says that the bathroom is pink painted, and I’m like, “I know I said it’s white.” And then I just looked last night and I saw the word “pink,” and then I realized the main character’s bathroom is pink, but the murder house, it’s white. So why did the…then you freak out.
S.C.: Yeah, you can’t have them allergic to wine but then in the next book he opens a winery.
Frank: I had a guy, I swore he was gonna be vegan and then the next thing I knew he was eating…
S.C.: A steak or something, yeah.
Frank: No, he was gonna be, I don’t know, gluten free and he was eating toast. I don’t know.
S.C.: They have gluten-free bread.
Frank: The reader will, you know, call you out. That’s why in my new book I made it a fictitious town. Every other book I’ve written has been in either the town I grew up in or adjacent. This one, I fictionalized it because I wanted an antique store. And I knew there’s no antique store in my town, and if I said there was, someone would, you know…
S.C.: You’ll still get called out even for fictional towns. They’ll be like, “Oh, you can’t do that from that direction in that fictional town.”
Frank: Right, that doesn’t exist.
S.C.: It’s like, “Okay. Well, I think you could.”
Jeff: Let’s talk about research a little bit, because I imagine for mysteries there can be a lot. You’ve got police procedure, how they might deal with a crime scene. You’ve got just how a crime scene may play itself out, how somebody died. What does research look like for you in the books that you’ve written? And Frank, we’ll come and start with you on this one.
Frank: Well, I just realized as you’re asking me that, I haven’t really said anything about what my book is about. “Renovated to Death,” it’s about a gay couple who host a home renovation show on a network that is much like HGTV but not. And so I based this, because my partner and I moved into this 1924 historic house that we’ve been renovating, so I didn’t have to do research really in that aspect. But I wanted to write about this house that they go into that has an all original 1920s bathroom. Well, mine doesn’t, so I had to go online and see what was in an all original 1920s bathroom. And I tried to find pictures, because why rack your brain trying to imagine what it looks like if you can actually see what it looks like? So I did that.
And then I do have a friend from high school who is a police officer so I would message her. I really wanted to know, like, “If this guy got caught for doing this, what would his sentence be? Is this illegal?” Luckily in the cozy we don’t have to get too detailed about the murder so I didn’t have to know what does a dead body look like, or those kind of things. So I mostly just did the research for visual inspiration and ways to describe what I see, and my friend, who’s the cop.
I love the idea, I hear about writers who they’ll sit down and they’ll interview people. And it’s like, if I had that luxury…well, we were also in a global pandemic, but it would be nice if you could have a coffee date with a real cop and they could tell you the ins and outs of this. But I also find, if it doesn’t pertain to what I’m writing, I don’t need it. And also, I write in the first person. He may not know. I don’t know, so he may not know, and that’s okay because if I don’t know it and he doesn’t know it, why do I need to know?
Jeff: Yeah, for sure. How about for you, Michael? What does your research look like? And then I would also ask, how has it changed over the years? Because in your first books, of course, that was all pre-internet, so your actual research had to happen in some other way.
Michael: That’s a very astute observation. My first novels were written in long hand on a legal pad and then transcribed at night on a typewriter. And revising the novel meant typing it over. Then, along came personal computers. When the first IBM, I think it was the IBM PC 101, I bought it. And boy, did that change things. It was still a few years before the internet came along. My research prior to the internet basically involved fact checking, and for that I would get on the phone and call the local research librarian with a list of questions just to get facts straight.
It’s always, of course, when writing a mystery, when you’re dealing with medicine, and police, and weapons, and all that, you’ve gotta straighten that out. And like Frank, I turn to several close friends who are, kind of, experts in those fields. There’s a doctor I bounce questions off, there’s a criminal lawyer I know. I don’t pick their brains for stories. It’s just when I’ve gotten to the point in my plotting when I’m not sure what kind of footing I’m on, then I’ll try to ask as specific a question that I can in order to straighten it out. I think it’s very important.
I don’t obsess over research. I research what I need to know to tell the story, and what I need to know to tell the story with authority. The point of wanting to tell the story with authority is not to be thought of as smart, or brilliant, or all knowing. It’s simply that I don’t make mistakes, factual mistakes that readers will see and immediately be yanked out of the story and roll their eyes, and they’re removed from the page. And this artificial reality of the fiction that you’ve been creating and trying to lure your reader into, it suddenly just dissolves if you’ve made a reference to the wrong kind of gun or whatever. And so, I mean, those kind of things have to be nailed down, whether it’s stuff that interests you or not.
Obviously, like, police procedure just does not interest me, but I need to have it at least in the background of these cozies. There has to be a friend or an associate who’s actually the cop and reports how things are going and all that. Medicine, forensics, forensic medicine, that kind of thing, you’ve gotta get that right. But actual out-and-out facts are pretty easy to find on the internet considering your source. But then if you want a more nuanced interpretation of something you’re doing, that’s when I’ll turn to friends who know the stuff. But like I said, I don’t obsess over it but I know that we all have to get it right.
Jeff: How about for you, S.C.?
S.C.: Well, I research before I start, during, a lot of things come up throughout it. And also there’s this great group on Facebook, Cops and Writers. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. You can ask any question, it’s fantastic. They’re all a bunch of retired cops, they’re detectives, it’s lawyers, it’s great. They have all the information you would ever need. They don’t make you feel stupid for asking questions, which is nice. Yeah, it’s really useful. It’s better than the encyclopedia.
Jeff: We’re all gonna run over there after we’re done here and sign up to that group.
Frank: Yeah, I’m checking it out.
S.C.: I wish it was sponsored. No.
Michael: And the people I do choose to lean on for fact checking, they’re not at all annoyed by it. They seem to really, really love playing a role in it, and then they always end up on the acknowledgements page and they love that, too.
S.C.: Yeah. That’s great. That’s good.
Jeff: What would you say has been the most interesting, kind of, nugget of information that you’ve gotten out of your research? And S.C., we’ll just come straight back to you for that one.
S.C.: This one was hard for me. I was trying to think because I research a lot on…I’ve written a ton of books and I was like, “What’s one thing?” I know a lot more about poisons than my husband would like me to know. But basically, I don’t know, I’ve learned a lot of different things but I’m not good at recalling these things. Maybe you guys could take this, answer this question.
Michael: Well, it’s interesting that S.C. brought up poisons because I think any cozy mystery writer occasionally resorts to them. I mean, there’s a wonderful series of how-to books, I think, “Writer’s Digest,” has, it’s like, “Poisons for Mystery Writers,” and all that, and everything is cross referenced. It’s a lot of good information. But I think the novel that taught me most regarding things I needed to research was in my “Mark Manning” mystery titled “Boy Toy,” and it dealt with mushroom poisoning, which I know absolutely nothing about. And that did require a lot of digging and a lot of fact finding.
And it’s interesting, once you get into it, it almost starts to suggest directions to go with it. I’ve never even especially cared for mushrooms, so the idea of people going out in the woods and plucking these things off of the bottom of logs and then taking them home and eating them is mind boggling to me, but it made for some really good plot points. And I know a lot more about mushrooms than I would have before.
Jeff: It’s always dangerous to know the mystery writers because they can get you with all the research they do. Frank, what was a good nugget of research you got out of “Renovated to Death?”
Frank: I can’t remember why exactly I was researching this because I don’t think I ended up using it, but I did learn that rigor mortis is not permanent. I don’t know why I ever thought it was. It basically only lasts for 24 to 84 hours according to what I’ve read, and so they use that to determine how long someone has been dead. Because I went on a road trip the other day with my partner and we kept seeing all these poor, unfortunate dead animals alongside the road.
And every once in a while you’ll see the poor little raccoon on its side and its legs are…you can tell it’s totally stiff, and then other times you’ll see them and they look like they’re peacefully sleeping, so it makes sense that it doesn’t last forever. But for some reason I always assumed it did, I don’t know why. And then the other thing I did learn while researching my second book is that a Burberry cashmere wool scarf can cost $1,500 to $3,000, and I don’t know who would ever spend that kind of money on a scarf. But I did learn that.
S.C.: Not me.
Frank: I did learn that.
S.C.: Good to know.
Jeff: Even better if you turned it into the murder weapon and someone died by said expensive scarf.
Frank: Well, touche, touche. Don’t give it away.
S.C.: It’d be easy to find the killer, because who could afford that scarf?
Jeff: That’s true, you’d have a limited number of suspects there.
Let’s talk a little bit about your latest books, and Michael, we’ll start this with you. You’ve got “Desert Getaway.” Tell us a little bit about Dante and Jazz, what they get up to in this book, and where the series may go, too.
Michael: Okay, there’s a little bit of backstory to “Desert Getaway.” It started with “Palm Springs Noir,” an anthology published by Akashic Books this past July, a year ago July. But I first got an email out of the blue from the editor, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, asking if I was interested in taking part in this because I live very near Palm Springs, and that was three years ago. And my first reaction was, “Well, noir isn’t really my thing. I haven’t written noir.” But at the same time I thought, “It’s just a short story. Try it, it might be fun,” and it was. I loved it. I came up with two main characters in the short story. The short story was titled, “VIP Check-In.” And it was very well received, and I mean, I just knew as soon as…again, this goes back to my little speech about inspiration. It’s as hard to be inspired to write a short story as it is to be inspired to write a novel. You have to come up with the idea.
And as a novelist, I’ve always kind of thought that short stories are, sort of, a waste of inspiration. You only get 20 pages out of it when you could get 300. And well, you probably know where I’m going, I decided to develop that story into a full-fledged novel that is “Desert Getaway,” here in my hands, and back on the wall. And in effect, the original short story is now chapter one of the book.
There are two main characters, one is Dante O’Donnell. He’s a white gay man, an ex-actor who’s down on his luck and has taken work in Palm Springs as a sort of concierge for this vacation rental company. The other main character is Jazz Friendly, and she’s a Black straight woman, an ex-cop, also down on her luck, trying to get a fresh start as a private investigator. Now these two people are, at least on the surface, polar opposites, but the story forces them to work together. And along the way they’re trying to solve a murder for mutual reasons. They each have their reasons for wanting to solve this, but along the way they learn not only a measure of respect for each other, but by the end they’re friends and they make a pretty good team. And so that’s, you know, I’m writing installment number two right now, and who knows how far it’ll go? But I love these guys, Dante and Jazz, and that’s what I’m up to.
Now, Frank, you gave us a little hint on “Renovated to Death,” which kicks off “Domestic Partners in Crime.” Tell us a little more about these two renovators and what they’re gonna be up to as this series continues with whatever you can tease out for us.
Frank: Basically, it’s this gay couple, Peter “PJ” Penwell and his partner, John Paul “JP” Broadway. And Peter is a writer of young-adult mystery novels, and JP is an actor who had some success on a now cancelled cop drama called “Brooklyn Beat.” And they were living in New York, they met in New York. PJ wrote this play for a gay play festival and JP was acting in the play and they met, and they were together for about five years. And they were realizing now that they’re millennials and they’re in their mid 30s, and they realize New York is expensive and the TV show has dried up, and the books aren’t selling as well as they once were.
And so maybe we should move back to Michigan, where Peter is from, and buy a house. They can get a house that’s three times the size of their New York apartment for $200 a month less, buy a house, get a dog, fix it up. So they do that, and JP has this friend who’s a TV producer for a network called Home Design Television, HDTV, and she says, “Oh, I can pitch you guys to our network to do this home renovation show. You’re gonna buy this house. You’re gonna fix it up anyway, so why don’t we take advantage of the eye candy?”
So they get the show and it’s called “Domestic Partners.” So in this book they finish season one, they finish their own house. They find a new house to renovate. There’s an abandoned house down the street where they live in Pleasant Woods, and it’s currently owned by a pair of gay twin brothers whose parents died. The house has been sitting empty for 25 years. They’ve decided it’s time to let it go and so the guys are gonna fix it up. Then, lo and behold, one of the twin brothers is found dead at the bottom of the staircase. And of course, the police rule it an accident, as they always do.
And going back to the theme of love and romance, the man who dies’ boyfriend comes and says, “You guys, I can’t believe this was an accident. He’s the love of my life. I need to know really what happened. Can you please help me?” And based on their own love for each other they realize if this were to happen to them of course they would want to know, and so begins the search for the killer. The man who died happened to have a lot of ex-boyfriends and a lot of enemies, and perhaps he had some gay mafia connections.
Frank: Perhaps. He owns a bar that was newly renovated. Where did the $500,000 come from? And you know, they move onto their…become pulled into the world of becoming amateur sleuths. And they have to figure out what’s going on because they can’t renovate this house because it’s now a crime scene. So they wanna get season two of their show filming and get back to their normal lives.
Jeff: I love your characters because you’ve got one who is the YA mystery writer and another who was a cop on a cop TV show. So you’ve both got them as, like, “I’m not a cop but I played one on TV,” sort of scenario.
Frank: Right, exactly. So he’s like, “Well, remember that episode that I filmed where we did, blah-biddy-blah-biddy-blah? It’s exactly like that.” And that’s what I think makes it fun because when we see these kind of shows or we read these kind of books it’s always fun to have the amateur person who…how did they know? How did the little old lady in Cabot Cove…well, she wrote mystery books, of course. She did a lot of research and she knew a lot of cops.
Jeff: Exactly. S.C., now your latest, “Kiss, Marry, Kill,” it’s the sixth book in the “Dr. Maxwell Thornton Murder Mystery” series. Tell us a little bit about Dr. Thornton and what’s happening in the new book.
S.C.: Well, Dr. Thornton is a person who hates people. He had a patient die. He used to work in Los Angeles. He had a patient die and he was the kind of person who never failed. He just can’t come to grips with the fact that he lost the patient so he, kind of, ran away. And he ends up in this little town in Texas called Rainy Dale, and he doesn’t fit in very well because he’s very abrasive. He’s just very blunt. The people haven’t had a doctor in a while and they’re bothering him, so he doesn’t start off well at all.
And as the series progresses, he gets involved romantically with the sheriff, of course, and they fall madly in love. But they have their ups and downs. They have a lot of problems, and every book ends on a cliffhanger. And this one, there’s a doctor who comes to town, a homeopathic doctor who is super charming. Everybody loves him, and of course, Dr. Thornton is feeling threatened and all of this. And this guy pretends to be super friendly to Dr. Thornton but he can tell that there’s something beneath it all, and of course, it’ll be revealed what it is eventually. But Dr. Thornton’s clinic burns down in one of the books so he’s looking for a new place right now, and he’s trying to ingratiate himself with the people of Rainy Dale and try to do better.
And so he goes to a wedding where the bride feels that she’s seeing the dead wife of her future husband, so that’s kind of the storyline. She’s kind of being, she thinks, haunted by this dead ex-wife. And then the groom ends up dead at the wedding, and he’s not who he seemed, and yada, yada. It could happen, guys.
Jeff: Nothing surprises me anymore of what happens in the real world, so absolutely.
S.C.: Yeah, really, it’s very tame. No, it’s fun, though, to write.
Jeff: I’m curious how you’ve seen the genre evolve. As writers in the genre, as readers in the genre, what you’ve seen happen, and even what you expect to see as we’re writing books that we wrote in the pandemic and how we may write now “post-pandemic.” And Michael, again, I’ll come back and start with you because you do have the history here also.
S.C.: Yeah, definitely.
Michael: Well, I’m not sure I can speak to change in the mystery genre as a whole, but when we talk about gay mysteries, I think there’s clearly been an evolution. And to my way of thinking, it’s very positive. Simply put, over the last 20 years, mainstream American culture has grown much more accustomed to encountering LGBT characters not only in novels but in the mass media. It’s as if the fact of our existence no longer comes across as shocking or daring, which it certainly used to be. And for gay writers, this does mean that our niche is less secure and exclusive than it once was, but to my way of thinking there’s really no downside to that. It’s liberating and I’m grateful for it.
Jeff: Fantastic. S.C., you’ve kind of in the middle of the group. What’s your perception?
S.C.: That’s funny because I’m a middle child so that it works out great. I’m used to it. I think there’s a lot more diversity definitely in gay mystery for sure. There’s a lot more lesbian, transgender, different races. I don’t think it’s just one thing anymore. I think it’s definitely diversified, which I think is a very good thing.
Frank: I agree. I haven’t read a lot of cozies. I haven’t recently read a lot of mysteries, but I have found since writing mine, I remember when I stared writing mine, I thought…I didn’t realize, Michael, that you had written gay mystery for Kensington but I knew Kensington mysteries and I thought they were always, or the majority were all about, for lack of a better…little, old ladies. So I thought, “Oh, well, one about a gay millennial couple, that must be new, or at least some new thing.” And then I started doing some research and I found out that there are more. They’re calling them quozies now. Over on CrimeReads there was an article and the guy wrote about it, the quozy about the queer cozy. And so I think that’s definitely new and diverse and people are happy to see that.
I also read some of my early reviews which I’ve stopped doing, and one of them said, “Why do you have to keep telling us that they’re gay?” Well, I was a little whatever, but then I thought, “Oh, they don’t care.” Like Michael said, it’s evolving and they don’t care that they’re gay, so why did the reader need to be told that they’re gay? And I thought, “Well, because that’s just how you do it,” and if I don’t tell you that they’re gay then you’re going to assume that they’re straight. This is my first book that’s been geared toward a wide audience, not just a gay audience, and I’m finding that I’m learning stuff from the non-gay audience who reads that they don’t need to be spoon fed and they don’t need the…I don’t wanna say, they don’t care. Like Michael said, everyone knows gay people and we’re not some special…we’re not, what did they…mermaid or whatever. We’re not unicorn. We’re not unique. They want us to be just like everyone else, and that’s good.
Michael: Gay novels also used to almost always be coming out stories, and you don’t really…I can’t claim that I read everything. I don’t know if it’s a trend, but I assume there’s much less of that now. A gay character, especially a central gay character in a story, we assume he came out as some point but that’s ancient history. And it’s just a matter of, how are we functioning in the world as people? The anguish of coming out, I don’t think that plays anywhere near the role in LGBT fiction that it used to. I hope not.
S.C.: I agree. Yeah, I think you’re right.
Jeff: Yeah, it depends on where you look for it, but you could certainly have whole novels where it’s never discussed how they came out, when they came out. There are still coming out stories that are still extremely relevant but it’s not every story has to tell that story, which is great.
S.C.: Right. Well, there are still people who can’t come out, depending on where they live, who their family is. It is still a thing, but like you’re saying, it isn’t every single gay story isn’t about coming out. You guys can have real stories now.
Frank: Yeah. It’s hard to find conflict, though.
Jeff: And we can have happy endings.
Frank: It’s hard to find conflict when you take away that thing we’ve relied on so long as the issue.
S.C.: Yeah, but there’s plenty of conflict in life, don’t you think, just in general?
Jeff: Of course, this Big Gay Fiction Fest is happening during Pride month, and I would love to hear from each of you what pride means to you here in 2022, and also how you manifest pride within your stories as well. And Frank, we’ll start back with you on this one.
Frank: Well, I will say, I ashamedly, shamefully…I feel like I’m taking it for granted. The older I get, the longer I’ve been out. I didn’t come out until I was 27 years old and that was a while ago, but I remember the first Pride parade I went to when I wasn’t out yet and seeing everyone who was celebrating that thing. And I was actually there with my partner and we had been together for a while at the time, but we were both actors living in New York and it was that time where there were no gay actors who were out. And so we were both choosing our career over our relationship.
And now that we’ve been out, we have a pride flag that we…and we just got it last year. It was, like, “Yeah, we want a Pride flag.” We have a house now and we live in a very gay friendly neighborhood. I live on a street that has 12 houses and 7 of them are owned by gay couples or individuals. And for me, it’s like being proud. It’s pride. It’s being proud, and we need to remind the younger generation that they didn’t always have what they have now. And putting it in the story, it’s more about they’re just gay. It’s not an issue. It’s not something to be ashamed of, unless that happens to be the plot point. So now it’s just about writing about…that’s just part of their lives, and they’re gay, and they’re happy, and they have every right to be and every reason to be.
It’s still a little bit easier said than done, I think, but I’m trying to be the person that…I’m taking actually my inspiration from the younger people who’ve always had it, and the boys will just hold hands walking down the street, or they’ll kiss in public. It’s like, oh, that’s something I would never dream of doing. And now I’m trying to get to the point where, like, my partner and I went to see a movie and we kind of got a little cuddly and it wasn’t something we would’ve done years ago because we always felt like, “Oh, they’re watching us and we’re gonna get gay bashed.” I feel like we, thankfully, at least where I live thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Jeff: Michael, how about for you?
Michael: Well, my comments on this are remarkably similar to Frank’s. Virtually all my novels have featured a gay man as first person narrator, but I’ve moved that viewpoint character far beyond the issue of coming out or struggling to fit in. These protagonists of mine now don’t struggle with their gayness. They just happen to be gay, and they’re generally well assimilated into the surrounding mainstream culture. And that’s not only a point of pride for me but a point of strength and clarity. I think it also provides something of a model, not necessarily a role model but just a modeling of life and a modeling of how to live to gay readers who might still be struggling with that. But I don’t preach about it anymore. It is what it is, and Frank has already said this very well.
S.C.: Yeah, that’s great.
Jeff: S.C., anything you wanna add?
S.C.: No, just that I’d say mostly I do worry…I worry how fragile this moment is and how easily things can be taken away, you know, with what’s going on with the Supreme Court and everything. I worry about my rights, I worry about LGBT rights, I worry about all the things that could change so quickly. That’s, kind of, where I am when I think about things lately, but I do also in my books, I try to show that they’re gay but that’s not the point. The point is that they’re people enjoying their lives, or solving a mystery, or whatever it is they’re doing. It’s not about them being gay. Like Frank was saying, I don’t think you have to announce every few sentences, “I’m gay, we’re gay.”
Frank: Well, even the way I was just thinking about it now, I have a gay couple that I introduce and I say, “Miguel and Ricardo, a gay couple.” No, I just say, “A couple.” The readers just need to know they’re a couple, and because it’s two men, they’re gay.
S.C.: Figure it out. Yeah.
Frank: Back in the day, though, we had to say that and we don’t have to say that anymore. We don’t have to make excuses. We don’t have to spoon feed. You just say, “There were two women. They’re walking up the street holding hands and she kissed her on the cheek.” They’re lesbians, we don’t have to tell you that. We will get it. Trust the readers.
S.C.: Yeah, I agree.
Jeff: As we get close to wrapping up here, I’m curious, of course our listeners should go pick up all of your books to dig into some mystery. I’m curious who you would recommend in the gay mystery genre for our readers to pick up if you’ve got an author or two you think would be great to recommend. S.C., who are a favorite or two of yours?
S.C.: Well, I think it goes without saying, Josh Lanyon, adore the “Adrien English” series, and she has more than just one series, though, that’s very popular. Harper Fox is fantastic, Nicole Kimberling. There aren’t actually so many that I love. I started saying there’s a million of them but actually there aren’t a million of them. Those three are three I really love so it’s just them.
Jeff: Fantastic. Michael?
Michael: I always hate doing this. I mean, at one end of the mystery spectrum…well, this isn’t gay. At one end of the mystery spectrum there’s Agatha Christie, and then somewhere near the other end is Michael Nava, just an absolute pro. And he happens to be a friend and I’m happy to recommend his novels, but I enjoy reading both of those ends of the spectrum and everyone in between. I just really don’t wanna take it any farther than that.
Jeff: Frank, any names you would drop? I know you said you haven’t read too many but I know you did some reading as you were preparing to write your own.
Frank: Yeah, I haven’t, and part of it is I don’t like to read other writers because if they’re better than me they make me feel inferior or I steal their stuff. But one that I did come back to that I read a lot while I was researching in the beginning, there’s a writer by the name of Lee Hollis. It’s actually a pseudonym for a guy, another Kensington author named Rick Copp, and his sister, they write together and her name escapes me. It’s Holly, I think, is where they get Hollis. But I really enjoy Lee Hollis’, he has a series, her name is Poppy Harmon and she is, like, an older, middle-aged Jessica Fletcher type woman. She lives in Palm Springs in the Desert Sands Mystery, I think they’re called.
And I really like his writing because he does that thing, that’s where I got it, where he does 100 pages of all the setup, and getting to know the characters, and getting to know who the ultimate victim becomes so that when that person dies you either are…you’re happy that they’re dead and you get to see all of the buildup of, oh, why it might’ve been this person, and why it might’ve been that person, why it might’ve been that person. And then there’s always Joanne Fluke. She’s just a lot of fun with her many, many, you know, “Yule Log Murder,” and “Mistletoe Murder,” and “Cream Pie Murder,” and “Key Lime Tart Murder.” They’re just fun. They are books my grandmother would read and that really makes me happy because she’s gone and I miss her.
Jeff: So as we’re passing the halfway point of the year, I’d love to know what’s coming up next that readers could look for either towards the end of 2022 or moving into ’23. Frank, you mentioned a second book in your series. Is that gonna be a late 2022, or ’23?
Frank: It will be out exactly one year from now, book two in the “Domestic Partners In Crime” series called “Rehearsed to Death.” And the basic plot is the guys are on hiatus from the TV show. Peter “PJ” has a play that’s being produced at the local community theater starring JP, his partner, and there’s a really nasty diva director who just gets under their skin. And he likes to wear a really long, flowy Burberry cashmere scarf that he flips around his neck ever so dramatically, and a lot of people who are not fans of the guy either, and he does end up, you know, dead. There’s no mystery that somebody’s gonna die. It says right on the cover probably. So that book will be out next June, right in time for pride next year.
Jeff: Fantastic. S.C., how about for you?
S.C.: Obviously the Dr. Thornton that we just talked about, but also the third cozy, the “Kip O’Connor Cozy Series.” Got one coming out at the end of, I think, June. And then I might write a gay romance, just standalone kind of thing because I didn’t used to write series but I started writing a lot of series the last few years, but I like to write standalones, too. That’s how I started, and I just think it keeps it fresh. You don’t have to remember every single detail, so that’s what’s coming for me.
Jeff: Perfect. And Michael?
Michael: I’m working on the next “Dante and Jazz Mystery.” The first one, “Desert Getaway,” was just recently published. So the second one, in terms of being out there, is probably a year away, I would say some time early in 2023. The working title is “Desert Deadline,” and as that suggests, it’s about an author but a romance author. The queen of romance has rented a fairly large guesthouse in the Palm Springs area because she needs to hunker down and grind out the seventh and final installment of her very, very popular romance series, and there’s a video deal tied to it, and all that. Let’s just say things don’t go as planned.
Jeff: Definitely something to look forward to into the end of this year and next year.
Frank, Michael, and S.C., thank you so much. I have adored this conversation.
S.C.: My pleasure, very fun.
Jeff: Thank you for being with us for Big Gay Fiction Fest.
Frank: Thank you.
S.C.: Thanks for having me.
Frank: Happy pride, everyone.
S.C.: Yeah, happy pride.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
And if you’d like to keep up to date with the show and recent releases in our genre, check out the Rainbow Romance Reader Report, the weekly dispatch that delivers the latest news right into your inbox every Friday. Go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report for more info.
Jeff: Thanks again to Michael, Frank and S.C. for talking about mysteries. I’ve really loved this conversation, but in particular the discussion that went on about when the murder might be revealed, how many murders might end up in a story, and even how much romance and intimacy to include, and all that research that they do to ensure that the stories ring true. Such good discussion. I just loved it.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday in episode 388, it’s the final episode of the Big Gay Fiction Fest as we present the Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection.
Jeff: For the Fest, we’re going to be talking about LaQuette’s super sexy, second chance, bodyguard, fake relationship romance “Under His Protection.” We both love this book so, so much and cannot wait to discuss it with you.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.