A few days before ThillerFest X began, I was dog-sitting in Brooklyn. As I walked Leo around the neighborhood, I found the charming community bookstore Terrace Books. Leo agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to wait outside while I took a quick look. Almost immediately I found a novel I’d been hearing a lot about in the last year: The Fever by Megan Abbott. I met the author when she was on a panel with my editor at Bouchrcon 2013 in Albany. So I bought it and began reading in Prospect Park. Preparation for ThrillerFest, I told myself. I whipped through the book in two days – not so much devouring it as it devouring me. Wow!
The evening I finished The Fever, it won the Strand Critics Award and three days later it won Best Hardcover Novel at ThrillerFest. Preparation indeed!
Birdsong greets the dawn in my friend’s back garden. No matter that clouds mask the rising sun. I’ve a party to get to, so I don’t have much time. It’s Tennessee William’s birthday and I’m celebrating in his “spiritual home” – New Orleans, that is – at the literary festival named in his honor. I don’t want to be late.
I attended the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival back in 2001, covering the event as a journalist for Radio Netherlands. It was my first visit to the city known as the Big Easy and I immediately fell under its spell, much like the young writer who arrived in 1938. Tennessee wrote his Mama: “I’m crazy about the city. I walk continually, there is so much to see.”
“What do you write?”
A simple question, and the first most people ask when you tell them you’re a writer. Crime fiction, I say. But they usually want to know more. That’s where it can get tricky. From the start, I called my first book a psychological thriller. It’s how I pitched it to agents a couple years ago. After hearing the plot, one asked me, “Are the main characters gay?” “All of them except the dog,” I said. Her quick forced smile told me she was neither amused nor interested. I moved on.
Should I have said upfront it was a gay thriller? Was the gay aspect a reason another agent expressed concern about “our ability to sell this work”? As I thought about it, gay protagonists did seem a rarity in current mainstream crime fiction. In Jonathan Kellerman’s popular Alex Delaware series, the gay cop is almost a sidekick. What about other genres? And next I’m shifting gears with a ghost story, but the same main character. Switching genres within a series and a gay hero? Was I insane?
Inn at Whitefield
The northern New Hampshire inn where I’m spending the summer is haunted. I’ve not seen any first-hand evidence. But others report a recurring manifestation of dead flies in certain rooms; mysterious whistling in the kitchen; sudden loud knocks or extreme drops in temperature. A child played with an unseen friend. The dog refused to climb the Tower stairs. Oh, yes. A Tower. Any of these occurrences on their own might be explained. Put them all together? You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out the setting of my next book.
So one of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival panels that grabbed my attention was The Devil You Don’t Know: Otherworldly Forces in Fiction.
Amsterdam. Summer 1995.
I’m homeless, living in my jeep with my dog. (Long story, not so interesting.) Early one sunny morning in Vondelpark, we run into a crowd gathered behind crime scene tape that surrounds a pond by the rose gardens. (Infamous gay cruising spot – still is.) Police everywhere, divers in the water. I ask some guy what’s going on. He tells me, and it’s not pretty. Not first thing in the morning, not anytime. Take my word for it. But what he tells me will inspire a book. My first. The one I’m trying to get published. About a murder.