| English |
This interview was originally published in two parts on Gay Book Reviews in 2019. Since the site was closed at the end of that year, I’ve decided to re-publish it here. Please note that you can read the French version on livresgay.fr and that there is even a Japanese translation with additional questions and answers (both in Japanese and English).
Great news! Some days ago, I sent Josh Lanyon an email asking her if she’d accept to be interviewed on Skype, and she replied straight away saying she’d be delighted. Here I am now, fiddling with the button-down shirt I’ve donned for the occasion. I know I’m not going to have high tea with royalty, but shoot me—in my eyes, Josh is somehow like Male/Male murder mystery royalty, so I felt I had to dress up a bit. I realize I could have—should have—ironed said shirt, but anyway, it’s too late now; the Call-button has been pressed. When the connection is established, I see a sunlit scenery, and the woman I only know from her writing and the odd photograph you can stumble upon on Internet is sitting near a sparkling pool, a warm smile on her face and what looks suspiciously like a glass of Irish coffee in her hands. It is Irish coffee, as she admits in an aside during our interview. A nice little breeze is stirring some chimes I can make out in the background. Their soft cling and clang will pleasantly accompany our entire conversation.
ParisDude (all smiles): Hi, Josh. How amazing to finally be able to see you in the flesh—well, as much as our cam-to-cam get-together can be called “in the flesh”.
Josh Lanyon (with a little wave): Bonjour, Dieter! Ça va?
PD (surprised): Ça va, merci. You speak French?
JL (chuckles): Oh, un peu. A very little un peu. It’s one of my ambitions. To learn French. But I’m practicing my French for next year’s Salon du Livre (the Paris Book Fair that takes place every year in March, note from PD). I’m sorry it took me so long to get to the interview, but here we are. And (laughing) please, let’s pretend I can be coherent when I’m in the homestretch of a book.
PD (nods): I can’t even imagine how busy you must be at the moment. And I’m all the happier you found the time to squeeze our little talk into your schedule. (Thoughtfully). You know, for quite a while, you’ve been something of a mystery to me, mostly because your bio on the French amazon site presents you… as a guy! They even call you John in one place…
JL (pointing at herself and laughing): Well, I identify as female (she/her), but I suspect my publishers are being super-extra careful not to offend by assuming anything. Which of course I appreciate. As for John…? (With a wink). Well, I’m sure John appreciates it, too.
PD: So, I take it Josh Lanyon is your nom de plume. How did you come up with that name?
JL: The Josh is a bit personal, so I won’t go into that, but Lanyon is from Mary Renault’s classic novel The Charioteer. I read the novel in college, and to say that it changed my life would not be an exaggeration. And this is what we always hope as writers, isn’t it? That something we write may actually change someone’s life. Or at least make them think a little.
PD: I can only agree with you. Tell me, Josh… I surmise that you make a living out of your highly successful books. But if you weren’t writing, what would you be doing today? Jobwise, I mean?
JL: I would probably be teaching at a small private college somewhere. Oh! And possibly solving the occasional murder on the side! (chuckles playfully)
I must say I’m very relieved Josh is such an easy-going person. I tend to be shy and taciturn on first sight, but she simply makes me feel at ease, as if we’d known each other since time immemorial.
PD: I’m curious—what made you start to write in the first place?
JL: I’m that weird, rare thing. A born writer. And I was very fortunate in that I always had teachers, all the way from second grade through college, who encouraged and nurtured my writerly tendencies. By fourth grade I was certain I would be A Writer. (You can hear the capital A and W here).
PD: I’m wondering what wee Joshy might have been like… a whirlwind? A Shirley-Temple-cutie-pie? Or, like me, a quiet and shy bookworm?
JL: A skinny blonde little twerp with—now-embarrassing—imaginary friends. I was a mix of shy and bossy—and am legendary within my family for frequently dragging my kid sister into trouble.
PD(laughs at that): Ha! Almost hard to believe. What did that little California girl dream of becoming? Did she already know she’d be a famous writer one day? And how many of her dreams have come true?
JL: I thought I’d own more horses, that’s for sure (winks at me). Well, the truth is, I was always a storyteller. According to my grandmother, long before I was old enough to read, I would pick up books and explain what the story was in baby talk. And then once I had graduated to coloring books, I would spend the entire coloring session telling my sisters and friends the story of whatever it was I was coloring. (As an aside). I was clearly competing for Most Annoying Child on the Planet award.
PD: Well, let’s talk shop a bit, shall we? On our French site, livresgay.fr, we’ve just been discussing your Adrien English-series, so I’d love to know: how did you come up with the idea of creating the two main characters, adorable Adrien and tortured Jake? And where did you get that highly effective idea from, you know, the one that has them pine for each other without even the slightest hint of an eventual HEA almost till the very last paragraph?
JL: May I just say that I think it’s so terrific you have this site. Wonderful! When I first started publishing gay mysteries and M/M Romance, there were NO sites like this. (Thinks it over, then shakes her head). Well, to be fair, blogging and the internet didn’t exist when I was first published. But it’s amazing to see how the world of LGBTQ genre fiction has evolved in some twenty-plus years.
Anyway, thinking back to Adrien and Jake… I’m going to disappoint you, but I don’t remember exactly how I came up with those two particular characters. Before A&J I started many stories with gay male protagonists—a number of those stories were later finished and published as M/M Mysteries—you know, I Spy Something Bloody, Cards on the Table, The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks… But at the time those were simply for my own amusement. I had no idea there was any kind of market for them (in fact, there wasn’t).
I can tell you that when I create characters, I tend to create them in pairs. I believe I instinctively come up with two people who are compatible and incompatible in key ways. That creates a natural, organic conflict—no insurmountable obstacles, but realistic, legitimate challenges that would have to be overcome. My personal experience is that most relationship difficulties—and I include all human interactions in that—stem from the inability or unwillingness to communicate.
(Laughs). Now I’m forgetting the question!
PD (prompting): Adrien and Jake, and their complex love-story…
JL: Right. With Adrien and Jake, they fall for each other almost at once—and against their better judgment—but they do have genuine obstacles. Jake starts the series a very different person with different biases and attitudes from how he ends the series. And it is his relationship—really, his friendship—with Adrien that makes that character arc, that change of heart possible.
I think that’s how it works in real life. We meet people along the way who shape our views and change our attitudes. Or at least, that’s how it works for those of us with the ability to grow and evolve. (Sends me a meaningful gaze, both playful and serious). Not everyone has that ability.
As far as the emotional impact of the story… I think by writing in first person, I was able to write with more emotional immediacy? Intensity?
PD: Yes, I get that. (Putting a finger on his lip in thought). What I always find amazing is how much you as well as many other female writers seem to know about the gay male psyche… Is it merely amazingly empathic guesswork, or do you have a bunch of gay friends you can cross-check that aspect with?
JL: I’ve always had close, positive relationships with the men in my life, which helps, I’m sure. And I’ve worked in male-dominated industries. Most of my mentors were men. And good writing is a blend of experience, education, and empathy. You need all three to tell any kind of meaningful story. IMHO.
(Leans forward). Here is a very weird thing, and I have no idea how to explain it or why it would be true. For some reason the books I wrote about gay men were ten times more “real” (makes quotation marks in the air) as far as the characters and their relationships, than the novels I wrote about female protagonists. Maybe I feel pressure to create a certain type of female protagonist? Whereas, writing gay men allowed me simply to observe and relate—you know, relate as in report what I saw in the world around me, but also as in… connect with emotionally?
PD: I see. But there’s also the physical, bodily side… I mean… (winks)… the “mechanics” are not that hard to figure out, I guess, but all the rest? Sensations, emotions, thought processes during the carnal act? Not for all the world could I imagine what a woman experiences when making love. How come you seem to know so well what goes on inside us guys? (Chuckles). Are we really so easy to read?
JL: A certain type of writer—and men and women are equally guilty of this—focuses on the mechanics of sex, but when you’re having sex, you’re not focused on the technical aspects. (Jokes). Correction, maybe the very first time—AM I DOING THIS RIGHT???—but after that…no. (Grows serious) So, this…preoccupation with plumbing misses the very point, the very power of the sexual experience.
Sex is a very personal, intimate thing. But certain human experiences are universal. Our need as infants for touch, for example, and how it affects emotional and psychological development if we don’t get that. So, I try to always make sure my scenes are A – true to the characters—and every character has a unique history and their own psychological profile, and B – true to recognizable and relatable human experience.
(Laughs and winks). Okay, and yes, of course, I’m a grown-up sexually active woman who is reasonably experienced and reasonably observant!
PD: I always think of you as the Britishest US-author—sorry for that word—because your writing reminds me of Agatha Christie, E.F. Benson, or your fellow countrywoman, Elizabeth Peters, especially your pitch-perfect dialogues and the wry humour you show in, say, the Adrien-English-series or Séance on a Summer’s Night, for example. Did you read much British authors?
JL: My family background is what they used to call “Scotch-Irish”—(air quotation marks again, accompanied by a laugh)—which is accurate, given the amount of drinking that went on—with a bit of French, Italian and Welsh thrown in for emotional variety. I grew up in the Southern California Scottish sub-culture. (Seeing my amused expression, she adds) Yes, that is a thing!—My sisters and I learned highland dance, country dance, I studied Gaelic, and we’ve been in a Celtic folk band for just about thirty years. I grew up surrounded by Brits—Scots in particular—so yes, I grew up reading British crime writers. I read writers like Georgette Heyer, Ellis Peters, Agatha Christie, and all the Golden Age greats long before I got around to American crime writers like Chandler, Hammett, Hansen.
PD: Do you still have time to read?
JL: I’m trying to find more time to read this year.
PD: What genres do you prefer?
JL: Mystery is definitely my preferred genre. Before I published Fatal Shadows I had literally read every single gay (and most lesbian) mystery published before 2000. My preference is actually vintage mystery. Particularly those written in the 1940s. In fact, my husband—the writer/critic Kevin Burton Smith—and I are working on a non-fiction book tentatively titled Mr. and Mrs. Murder about fictional married sleuthing couples prior to the 1960s.
PD: Oh, such as Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford! Just love those characters.
JL: Correct! Yes. Very good!
PD: Now to something completely different. In early August, your latest novel, Mainly by Moonlight, will be released. If I’ve counted correctly, that’ll be the fourth novel you publish this year—to say nothing of your participation in the M/M Mystery Romance Anthology Footsteps in the Dark. How do you manage to be so prolific? Do have you have a special writing schedule? When do you have time for your hobbies—I gather you do have hobbies?
JL: In theory I do have hobbies! I love to garden, swim, watch classic film noir with the SO, chase my crazy little dog around the house and yard. (As a matter of fact, her dog, which she tells me is called Marlowe the Mutt, is currently curled on the back of her chair, snoring into her neck). I would love to read more. (Her expression becomes somewhat longing before she shakes it off.) I’m having a productive year, yes, but this is the most productive year in a very long time. I had a serious burnout in…God. When was it? 2012? I had done fourteen projects the previous year—three for mainstream publishers—and I had a spectacular crash and burn. I couldn’t bear to think of writing. Anything. At all. It was frightening. And it’s taken me this long to get back to what I consider a healthy and reasonable full speed.
PD: I also noticed how well edited and almost typo- and error-free your novels are, not counting the tiny errors the good old “shit happens”-ghost sprinkles any written work with. Do you proofread your work yourself, or do you have a special someone who does it for you? If it’s the latter, a big kudos to her/him…
JL (lights up): Merci! I’ll pass your compliments to the chef (winks at me). I use Keren Reed for editing most of the time. I can also recommend Deb Nemeth (she does all my Carina books) and Dianne Thies for copyediting.
PD: What are your next writing projects? Any chance we might get a sequel to the Adrien English-series? I guess I’m neither the first nor the only one to ask that question…
JL (with mock surprise): WHAAAA??? I NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT!!!! I don’t currently have another AE novel in me. However, next year is the 20th anniversary of Fatal Shadows, so there will certainly be some kind of AE fiction happening. Most likely codas, but perhaps a short story or a novella. We’ll have to see.
PD: Mmmh… Can’t wait to be there and read it! By the way, my boyfriend is frustrated so little books have been translated into French. Do you have any projects in that sense? You’d make one man exceedingly happy as it is…
JL: MxM Bookmark does plan on translating the Art of Murder series and the Holmes & Moriarity series, so that’s good news, I hope. Of course, they can only publish so much, so I am open to working with an additional French publisher should one come along. I do have a lot of books out there needing translation.
PD: Have you already visited France? Or my home-country, Austria?
JL: No! Next year will be my first trip to France. I’m very excited. Sadly, I’ve never been to Austria. It always looks like a fairy-tale kingdom to me.
PD: It’s worth a trip, I can tell you. And I’m not only saying this because it’s my home-country… (Looks at his list of questions). Tell me—if you were to name only one, what would be your Favourite Book Ever, you know, with capital F, B, and E?
JL: I know some people can answer this, but I’m not one of them! Different books have meant different things to me at different points in my life. Sometimes these books stand the test of time, sometimes they don’t, but they all “do their work” (air quotation marks) as it were. I can say that the book that most influenced me was, as I mentioned, The Charioteer, by Mary Renault, but I’m not sure even that book would be my single most favorite book.
PD: Sometimes, we read a book and can’t help musing, ‘Darn—why haven’t I written this!’ Is there any such book you can think of?
JL: Ack. Again, I’m going to disappoint you. I’ve never read anything that I wished I had written. I’ve read things so good—and so bad!—I found them inspirational. I’ve read things I’ve loved and things I’ve thought, ‘Hm, how can I capture that feel in my own writing?’ Maybe when I was very young. I remember reading The Egypt Game and thinking it was the most fantastic book.
PD: Your upcoming release, Mainly by Moonlight, seems to be a murder mystery with a witchy twist (claps hands with excitement). Just for the record—two of my favourite genres! Now, I remember the first time I came upon that mix—murder mystery cum paranormal—in your writing when reading The Darkling Thrush. What made you stray, if I may say so, from your usual path?
JL: Well, you know as much as I love mystery, it’s fun to try different things. Also, it’s good to learn new things, to stretch those creative muscles. It keeps it fresh for me, and it attracts new readers. I like writing romantic, funny holiday stories too—and I try to do one each year. One of the best things I did—though maybe one of the least popular—was the Edwardian mash-up Curse of the Blue Scarab. There are some projects worth doing simply because they test you, which pushes you to be a better writer.
PD: Mainly by Moonlight is announced as the first book in a series called Bedknobs and Broomsticks. May I be so bold as to ask you if we can get a glimpse of the future instalments?
JL: I love, love, love this new trilogy. It’s—at least I hope!—funny and romantic and poignant and, yes, mysterious and magical. But at heart it’s an exploration of what it means to love. The story begins with Cosmo, who happens to be a witch, falling in love at first sight with John, who is non-magical and, worse, not terribly romantic. But Cosmo’s best friend—unbeknownst to Cosmo—casts a love spell on John. So, we have a relationship that starts out based on a false premise. By the time the spell is removed from John, he thinks he’s in love—maybe he is in love?—, and their wedding is two days away. Oh, and Cosmo is suspected of murder. So… it’s complicated. And in the second book, due out later this year, matters get far more complicated when John learns that Cosmo is, in fact, a witch. That’s when all hell breaks loose—though hopefully not literally. (She laughs at that).
PD: You’re very successful with M/M murder mystery romances. Is there another genre you’d like to explore?
JL: Eventually, I’ll probably transition to non-fiction; I see that as a natural progression. But for whatever reason, right now I’m experiencing a kind of creative renaissance, and I’m full of ideas and stories. The challenge is finding time to actually write everything buzzing in my brain.
PD: Speaking of time—my gosh! I didn’t see it fly by! I guess I should let you do some more writing. Again, a huge thanks for talking to me!
JL: Thank you so much, Dieter, for such thoughtful and entertaining questions. I enjoyed chatting with you!
Update December 2020: Many things have changed, as you can imagine, since this interview took place in 2019. For one, Josh was supposed to come to Paris in early 2020 for the Salon du livre, which, because of the pandemic, was cancelled. Therefore, the drink she and I were meant to have didn’t take place either, alas. Let’s hope we’ll be able to have it in the near future. On a more positive note, Josh released the first two books of a new cosy murder mystery series, Secrets and Scrabble, and plans to release three more books next year, for which I and all the other Josh Lanyon-fans are waiting with bated breath.
For more information and updates about Josh Lanyon, please visit her website.