NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I-Spy: Writing the Gay Mystery (Intro)

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet; hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy Writing the Gay Mystery ... with Josh Lanyon


************************************************************

The gay sleuth symbolically confronts the ultimate mystery every gay man must face at some point in his life: his difference from his family and the general society into which he has been born.
The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film, Drewey Wayne Gunn

One of the hottest genres to come out of the ebook revolution is that of male-male fiction, and one of the noticeably bestselling sub-genres of m/m fiction is that of the “gay mystery.”

Gay mystery is something of a misnomer since every conceivable subset of crime fiction including thriller, romantic-suspense, action-adventure and mystery are all lumped under the same bent umbrella. To complicate matters, there exists a legitimate challenge as to whether m/m romance, which currently dominates the gay fiction market, is in fact, the same thing as gay fiction.

I expect we could argue that last all day. My interest here at NYUS is primarily one of craft, and my focus in coming months will be to demonstrate how to write a top-notch gay (or m/m) mystery novel.
To that end we’ll be covering the following:



Characterization in the Gay Mystery Novel - March 15
Setting in the Gay Mystery Novel - April 15
Plotting the Gay Mystery Novel - May 15
Theme in the Gay Mystery Novel - June 15
Clues and Red Herrings - July 15
Dialog in the Gay Mystery Novel - August 15
Sex and the Gay Mystery Novel - September 15
Writing a Gay Mystery Series - October 15
Pulling it all together - Final Question & Answer Session - November 15


In addition, each month I’ll be listing several books that I consider essential reading for those truly interested in understanding the antecedents of the gay mystery novel -- and honing their own craft.
But before we go any further, let’s consider what the gay mystery or crime novel actually is and how it contrasts with its mainstream counterpart.


A common misconception is that a gay mystery is merely a mystery featuring a gay protagonist. Yes, the protagonist of a gay mystery must himself be gay. Drewey Wayne Gunn writes, “A gay mystery must feature a gay protagonist: one who is out at least to himself, perhaps to his friends and others, and absolutely to readers.”*

Remember that in early gay mystery, the protagonist was himself an outlaw -- a sexual outlaw -- and an outsider. To some extent, that outsider POV continues to this day. It’s a distinctly different mindset than that of a mainstream sleuth.

Sexuality is never incidental in the gay mystery. The same exact story could not be told just as easily from the viewpoint of a heterosexual character. Through the course of solving the case at hand, the gay protagonist will explore and come to a greater understanding of his own sexuality -- and thus his identity as a gay man. His investigation is as much one of self-actualization as it is crime-solving. Through his new understanding, his awakening, the gay protagonist comes to unlock the secrets of his own heart.

Romance is not so much a subplot in gay mystery as it is a theme. To paraphrase Gunn (because I agree with him), unlike his straight counterpart who often swings from promiscuity to celibacy, the romantic quest in a gay mystery novel is both more romantic (in the classic sense) and idealistic than we typically see in mainstream mystery. The gay sleuth is not merely seeking sex, but love and mutual commitment.

It’s important to note here that this quest does not always end successfully. This is the crux of the difference between gay mystery and m/m mystery. All m/m fiction is romantic fiction and there is a genre expectation for romantic fiction. In m/m mystery, the romance plot will share equal page time with the mystery plot. In the gay mystery, the romantic quest is a subplot and that quest may just as easily be ongoing or even end badly.

Other than that crucial difference, all that we discuss in the coming weeks can be applied as easily to penning the m/m mystery as the gay mystery. And in fact, later on in the series, we’ll discuss handling eroticism and romance.

The other important point to remember is that gay mysteries do not get a pass from readers merely because they feature gay protaganists. The standards for the gay mystery are every bit as strict as for any other and crime fiction sub-genre. Today's readers are far too sophisticated and too spoiled for choice to be satisfied with mediocre plotting, pacing, and characterization out of gratitude to find gay characters. Gay characters are a dime a dozen now days. Your mystery fiction has to be top shelf in every respect.


Anyway, that’s enough to start with. I hope you’re looking forward to the months and the discussions ahead as much as I am!

I’ll leave you with this month’s recommended reading.

Classic Gay Mystery Must Read list:
The Heart in Exile by Rodney Garland
Goodbye, My Lover by Victor J. Banis
The Butterscotch Prince by Richard Hall
Pretty Boy Dead by Joseph Hansen
The Night G.A.A. Died by Jack Ricardo



*Drewey Wayne Gunn, "Down These Queer Streets a Man Must Go," The Golden Age of Gay Fiction (New York: MLR Press, 2009), 197

======================================================
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.




************************************************************

FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

18 comments:

Maureen A. Miller said...

Goodness, Josh. Did you find some way to extend the 24 hour day? Do you do backward laps around the planet at subsonic speed?

The knowledge that you share takes time and talent, and I stand up and say, "Bravo" to you!

Elise Warner said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Josh. I look forward to your future blogs.

Josh Lanyon said...

Maureen, all I had to do was sign that little piece of paper Satan showed me. Simplicity itself!!!

:-D

Josh Lanyon said...

Thanks very much, Elise!

Rita said...

Great post! I can’t wait to read more. Thanks for posting reading suggestions.
And Super Congrats on All She Wrote winning TRS’s romantic suspense category

Josh Lanyon said...

Thank you very much, Rita!

I must say winning the TRS Romantic Suspense award was a lovely if total surprise.

Toni Anderson said...

I've just discovered my ignorance of an entire genre :) Thanks for the post. Looking forward to more.

M said...

Them that can, do. Them that can't, teach. Them that can do both, ROCK! (That would be you!).

Marcelle Dubé said...

Wow, Josh. Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm getting an education!

V.S.Morgan said...

Hi Josh,

Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your future blogs. Your Writing m/m Fiction book was so helpful - I got a book contract. :)

Josh Lanyon said...

Happy to share, Toni!

Just give me a podium and a pointer and I can bore any audience into submission. :-)

Josh Lanyon said...

Aw, M.

I do try.

Josh Lanyon said...

Thanks so much, Marcelle!

Josh Lanyon said...

V.S. that's such excellent news!

Thank you -- and congratulations!

Cathy Perkins said...

Interesting post! Thanks for clarifying the difference between gay and m/m. I like the idea of the gay protagonist looking for his own identity as part of the character arc.

hambelandjemima said...

Great post, Josh. Yep, I'm looking forward to all of these, but the one about clues and red herrings in particular.

Vanessa said...

I'm very glad I happened by. Excellent thoughts on the subject and I'm really looking forward to following your posts. I've already got a 3 ring binder ready to put everything into it.

Stephen Harvey said...

Just found this series and I am looking forward to catching up and reading future post. I came across Joseph Hansen's books when I was young and they were very important. Not only were they a damn good read but the hero was a cool gay man. This gay boy found that very important.

Thanks for your stories Josh and sharing your wisdom.

Dumb Witnesses

No, I'm not being politically incorrect!  By Daryl Anderson I'm using the word dumb in its original meaning, as in being...