Posts Tagged 'Gay Mystery'


by Connie Ward



What made you decide to become a fiction writer?


Good question! I’ve always had an active imagination, and I love fantasy and make-believe. Creating works of fiction allows me to explore worlds, people, and situations that I have imagined.


What type of stories do you write?  And why?


I write all kinds of things: short stories, poetry, and of course, murder mysteries. Murder mysteries, especially period pieces like Death Comes Darkly, allow me to create whole worlds of my imagination. It’s pure escapism, if you will.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?


Everyone has been so supportive. My mom gets emotional every time we talk about my book being published; she’s so proud!


Where do you get your ideas?


From some pretty dark areas of my imagination! But classic tomes such as those by Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett inspire me. I have often been told I was born in the wrong era, that I should have grown up in the 1930s or 1940s. As a teenager, while my contemporaries were listening to Arrowsmith and Led Zeppelin, I was spinning Doris Day records.


How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?


I have to have a basic premise for a mystery—who did what and what clue or clues did they leave behind for the detective to discover. Once I’ve laid that out, I love writing dialogue, so I usually start there. I don’t bother with the details, such as “he said,” “she said,” etc., until afterward. Then I go back in and fine-tune it. Also, I’ll sometimes write pages of dialogue out of order, then go back in and put everything in the proper sequence, changing and refining as I go.


What makes Death Comes Darkly  special to you?


Death Comes DarklyFirst and foremost, Death Comes Darkly is my first published novel, so that in and of itself makes it very special to me. But beyond that, I feel it’s a great story that will hopefully keep everyone guessing right up to the end.


How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?


Oh my, I would say there is a little bit of me in every character. In Heath, the detective, I share an inquisitive mind and a love of animals and dressing well. In Alan, a bit of his naiveté, his “golly gee” mentality. Alan is also based on my Alan in real life. Beyond that, I’ve used the names of a lot of people I know, but the characters are all composites of different friends and family.


Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of these authors?


Hard to pin down a favorite, though I love Truman Capote, W. Somerset Maugham, and Harvey Fierstein. Many people don’t realize Harvey Fierstein is a writer, but he has written quite a bit. As far as inspiration, not counting Agatha Christie, who was straight, I would have to credit Truman Capote with instilling in me a love of writing.


When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?


I love to read and almost always have a book going. I also have a passion for architecture, singing, and drawing. My partner Alan and I have a great circle of friends, and some of our best times are spent with them, drinking wine, having dinner, and just talking.

Alan and I work out together three to four times a week, too, which is wonderful for stress, and it gives us some much-needed together time in our busy lives. We both share a passion for travel, also, and go as often as we can to as many different places as we can. It’s a big world, just waiting to be explored.

Gay Bashing


Death Comes DarklyMany people have asked me if Heath Barrington, the main character in my book, Death Comes Darkly, is based on me, which I find rather flattering. Of course there is a lot of me in him, but he’s better looking and has a better wardrobe! He’s the type of person I would easily be friends with, and certainly someone I would admire, faults and all. The book is set in 1947, so of course his perspectives are a bit different than mine, but I like to think his character is timeless, that he could easily be my neighbor today. But if he were my neighbor today I’m sure he wouldn’t dress as well, unfortunately, and he would certainly be a bit lost in today’s fast paced ever changing crazy world. I myself have always been a bit of an old soul, almost as if I was born in the wrong decade. So while Heath may be out of place in the year 2016, I think I would feel right at home in 1947.
Heath’s character is not without flaws and self-doubt, and you see in this book that he is at times unsure of himself, jealous, and insecure, just like me.

In the prequel to this book, which has not yet been published, you learn that he was Gay bashed at an early age and that a policeman came to his rescue, which is what led him into police work. This was based on my own experience 23 years ago when I was Gay bashed outside of a Gay bar, and now have a plastic plate in my head as a result.  gay bashingUnlike Heath, my bashing didn’t lead me to a life of police work. In fact, I didn’t even report the bashing to the police as a hate crime. I was too afraid back then, still in the closet, still unsure of repercussions. So instead I told the police I was jumped outside a straight bar, something I still regret. Heath was afraid too; of what his parents would say, of what would happen if anyone found out, internalizing guilt and blaming himself. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since 1947, but sadly there is still a long, long way to go, too.

Another thing Heath and I share is Alan, Heath’s being his new love interest, Alan Keyes, and mine being my Alan of 22 years, the light of my life, my rock, my supporter. It’s funny, but the bar I was Gay bashed outside of 23 years ago was a Gay country bar. After I got out of the hospital and back on my feet I at first thought I’d never go back there. But then I thought, I like two-stepping, I like the music, and my friends are there; why should I let fear keep me from that?

So, after a few months I went back, cautiously, nervously, but I went back. And not too long after, I met Alan there. He came up to me and asked me to waltz to the song “These are a few of my favorite things”, and I said yes, even though I was terrible at waltzing. I remember he gamely moved me about the floor as I stomped on his feet, but he kept coming back for more, so I must have done something right. We’re still together 22 years later and “My favorite things” has become ‘our song’
So yes, in many ways Heath is based on me, my experiences, good and bad, and my beliefs. He is, after all, my creation, and I like to think he’s a better version of me, of what I strive to be. And, perhaps, I’m a version of him.


by Connie Ward

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I started writing short stories when I was in the third and fourth grades. I can even pinpoint the book that put me on the path—John Bellairs’s The House with the Clock in its Walls. I identified with the main character, Lewis Barnavelt, and the story so pulled me into it that the entire outside world completely vanished. It was such a magical experience I wanted to be part of that world and realized that the way to get there was to start writing.

 What type of stories do you write?  And why?

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, but I really just stumbled into it. I spent most of my teenage years writing horror stories or just flat-out weird stories—writing that goes under the heading of speculative fiction these days. I still write a lot in those areas, much of which is tied to folklore and legends of the Pacific Northwest.

Everything I write tends to be very character driven—far more than plot driven. I hope to create characters that are engaging and would be the type of people that readers would like to spend time with them—having a meal, going to the movies, or whatever. I think once you’ve got really good characters, you can have them do anything and the reader will follow along. That said, I do try to make sure I keep the mystery in the story tight. I have to follow an outline a little more closely with a mystery so I don’t get completely distracted on finding the way to whodunit. For Final Departure I had the idea, and it just lent itself to good mystery, and off I went. I loved my characters so much, it just spun out, and the first one was followed in short order by six more. 

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My family and friends have been tremendously supportive of my writing. Point of fact, they were the ones really pushing me to get off my duff and send something in to be published. They’ve been following my main characters around in draft after draft for the last…wow, ten years and told me to get on with it. It’s a gift having that kind of encouragement and support.

 Where do you get your ideas?

Final DepartureWell, for Final Departure I’m sorry to say it was loosely based on a real case that happened where I grew up when I was a teenager. Right up to the part about suicide not being ruled out for the victim, but I took it a little bit beyond that for the book .For my mysteries, a lot does come from real life, and for my other work I draw a lot of inspiration from the landscape around here.

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

For the Finnigan mysteries, I have to outline. It’s too easy to step on my tail if I don’t. I keep the outline spare, so that I can move in any direction I want, but certain points I have to keep track of. That isn’t to say things can’t change—in one of the books the murderer changed from who I thought did it in the beginning. Turned out it still worked beautifully for the plot I’d outlined. Better, in fact. It sounds bizarre to people sometimes when I tell them that or that “My character did this today and I didn’t see it coming,” but that’s how it happens sometimes.

For the actual nuts and bolts, I have a pretty strict routine—up early, coffee, breakfast, exercise, and then writing. Usually ten pages or 3000 words or so, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. Sometimes if I’m on a roll that takes two hours; sometimes it takes ten. Just depends on how things are going, but always those ten pages.

What makes Final Departure special to you?

It’s the fruition of a life-long dream, getting a novel published. I’m still in a state of disbelief.

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

When I started writing Final Departure I had a heck of a time because the main character was far too much like me. I finally decided that in order to get into the story and make it work, I had to make him as opposite of me as I could, both physically and in personality. Jake’s nine inches shorter, an extrovert, and thrives on working out all the time. We share the same impatience, but that’s about it. I’m more like Sam in appearance, but Sam is like the eye of a hurricane in his serenity with the world, and that is so not me.

Several friends are characters in the books. They know who they are, too.

And well…all the murder victims are inspired by a long list of very real politicians and bigots and religious zealots. There’s something very cathartic about bumping people off who have nothing but hatred and contempt for their fellow man—in the fictional world, of course.

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite

of this author(s)?

I have to give credit to Armistead Maupin and the Tales of the City books. I think he was the first gay author I read, and he created all those characters I just loved and wanted to know what happened to them in book after book. Big inspiration there. So many others in the years since, but I’m a fan of Anthony Bidulka’s mysteries. Some others off the top of my head…Patricia Highsmith, Steve Berman, Augusten Burroughs, Daphne Dumaurier…so many others! Oh, and for humor you can’t beat David Sedaris.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Write. Write and write and write. Even if you can carve out only twenty minutes a day, just keep at it. And read everything you can get your hands on.


When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Spring, summer, and fall when the weather is good you can find me working out in the yard and tending the flowers. (In winter I hibernate.) I’m an amateur photographer and historian, with a focus on (surprise) ferries of the West Coast. I’ve always got a couple of books I’m reading, and I’m a huge fan of old movies. And of course lazy afternoons with my husband and cats are always a preferred way to spend a weekend.

Gays in Science

By Joel Gomez-Dossi



When did math and science become cool? It certainly wasn’t when I was going to school. Back then the only role models for kids who enjoyed science were nerds like the two high school protagonists in the movie, “Weird Science”. They couldn’t get dates, so they conjured up the perfect woman to satisfy their perfectly straight libidos. At least they had a goal. Other movies portrayed scientists as half-crazed eccentrics, like the character of Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd in “Back to the Future”.

The modern image of mathematicians and scientists has changed and it’s now cool to be a science geek. Last year’s Oscar race even included two nods to actors playing scientists. Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” and Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the gay mathematician, Alan Turing, in “The Imitation Game”.

As a teenager, I was labeled a queer. And while I enjoyed the sciences, I wasn’t about to risk being labeled a nerd and un-cool, too. So I decided to be one of the artistic kids, someone who discovered the world through the arts.

I willingly stayed away from the sciences, playing into the prejudice that science and math was for the privileged, white, and straight male population.

Then, in the late eighties (seemingly by popular demand) it was decided that society’s prejudice was a problem. That it hurt society to deny some of the world’s brightest and most productive minds from doing what they did best, simply because they weren’t the right race, creed, or sex.

The National Science Foundation picked up this cause by funding children’s educational television shows that emphasized multiculturalism, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights even produced a hundred-page study on how to encourage minorities to pursue scientific careers. Unfortunately, sexual orientation or gender expression didn’t enter into the progressive’s thinking back then.

But slowly science and math shows on television, particularly PBS, became multicultural and even included women and girls. Miraculously, the list of minority scientists started to grow.

Today, the person who is perhaps making science most accessible to minority Americans is a black man, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History. He’s quoted as saying, that as a child he’d never seen an interview with a black person whose expertise was anything other than being black. “And at that point,” he said, “I realized that one of the last stereotypes that prevailed among people who carry stereotypes is that…black people are somehow dumb.” In order to counter these stereotypes, he decided he had to be visible.

LEcoverIn “Lethal Elements”, I wanted to portray a strong, intelligent gay male who was also a scientist. The story centers on geologist Tom Burrell’s relationship with his husband, Roman. It’s on rocky ground, so when a mysterious company asks Tom to perform mineral studies in the Adirondack Mountains, he jumps at the chance. But before he can finish his tests, he finds himself lost in the wilderness and chased by a hired gun. Now it’s up to his husband, Roman, to rescue him.

But in order to succeed, Roman must first piece together the missing elements of Tom’s disappearance and discover the secret goals of the company that hired him. If Roman fails, Tom will die and one of the nation’s most unique ecosystems, the Adirondack Mountains, will be in danger.

I hope the characters of Tom and Roman defy stereotypes. Not because they’re gay and heroes, but because they both rely on their natural talents to make a difference in the world.

If you’re interested, you can peruse a growing list of real-life gay and lesbian scientists at


Joel Gomez-Dossi started his career as a theatrical stage manager, but he spent most of his working on the Emmy-award winning PBS series, “Newton’s Apple”. In the late nineties, he turned to freelance writing, working for regional publications across the country. He is the author of three novels published by Bold Strokes Books, Pursued, Deadly Cult, and Lethal Elements. You can reach Joel on Facebook at or on the web at

The Allure of Romantic Suspense



“I have no past, I have no future. I have only the immediate present.”

–from Hunter’s Green, by Phyllis A. Whitney



I was about ten years old when I discovered what was then called romantic suspense, which was a subgenre of the mystery field primarily targeted The Orion Mask 300 DPIto women. The covers of the mass market paperback were very distinct; they usually featured a woman with long hair being blown about in the wind (sometimes in a very long dress) usually looking backward over her shoulder with a fearful expression on her face. There was usually an oddly-shaped, spooky looking tree behind her; a mysterious but attractive man even further in the background, and in the absolute rear of the image was, without fail, a spooky looking house with a light in one of the windows. These books were by women, for women, and about women.


“When my aunt Charlotte died suddenly many people believed that I had killed her and that if it had not been for Nurse Loman’s evidence at the inquest, the verdict would have been one of murder by some person or persons unknown; there would have been a probing into the dark secrets of the Queen’s House, and the truth would have come out.”

–from The Secret Woman, by Victoria Holt



My grandmother had a copy of Victoria Holt’s The Secret Woman, which I read one weekend while visiting her while the rest of the family watched football games on television. The book was so well-written and well-done that I began reading every book by Victoria Holt I could get my hands on, and reading her led me to other women writers, all labelled ‘romantic suspense’ novelists. These other women included Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, among others; but those three were by far and away the best.


“Carmel Lacy is the silliest woman I know, which is saying a good deal.”

–from Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart


I’ve always been a big reader, devouring every book I could get my hands on. I also wanted to be a writer from the earliest time I can remember—and usually, when I found a genre I liked I wanted to write in that genre. My first attempts at writing were my own versions of the Hardy Boys/ Nancy Drew type mysteries for kids; I think the first one I tried writing was called The Secret of the Haunted Mansion. (Not terribly original, of course, but I was only eight.) When I discovered romantic suspense, I wanted to write it as well. The majority of the books were written in the first person, always from a woman’s point of view, and certainly there was an element of romance in them. Victoria Holt’s novels were more patterned after Jane Eyre; the first half of the book was usually the life story of the heroine, before she found herself either married or involved somehow with a man whose affections she wasn’t sure of; in Menfreya in the Morning, Harriet was a wealthy heiress who was plain and had a clubfoot. Once she was married to the lord of Menfreya, she was never certain whether he really loved her or whether he married her for her money. Holt’s novels were also often set in Cornwall, and often in the nineteenth century.


“I often marveled after I went to Pendorric that one’s existence could change so swiftly, so devastatingly.”

–from Bride of Pendorric by Victoria Holt



I found myself preferring Whitney to Holt. Whitney’s books were often set in some foreign location (St. Croix, Cape Town, Norway, Istanbul, Athens) and Whitney always included a lot of local color and history in her books, which made them even more enjoyable to me. I often felt, though, that her heroines were a bit on the wimpy side, despite the adventures they were having. Her books often featured a strong woman who served as the antagonist to the heroine; sometimes being married to the heroine’s true love (Columbella, Lost Island, Woman Without a Past) and often, the story had to do with secrets from the past coming out to haunt the present (Listen for the Whisperer, Silverhill, Spindrift, Domino).


“It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”

From The Moon-spinners by Mary Stewart


I never forgot these books or their authors; I often go back and reread them and marvel at how well they are plotted, the richness of the character development, and the strength of the first lines. I have always wanted to write one, to try my hand at romantic suspense and follow the basic template—another mystery writer explained it to me as “Two love interests; one a bad guy and the other a good guy. Which is which?” This is overly simplistic, of course, but when I started plotting The Orion Mask, it really came in handy.The Orion Mask 300 DPI


“Now that I have reached the mature age of twenty-seven I can look back on the fantastic adventure of my youth and can almost convince myself that it did not happen as I believed it did then.”

–from On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt



Another popular theme in Whitney’s work—and one I sought to emulate in The Orion Maskwas reuniting of someone, practically a stranger, with a family they’d never known. The reason the heroine had been separated from her family always varied (in Silverhill, her mother had been banished from the family estate and cut-off; in Woman Without a Past she had been put up for adoption; in Listen for the Whisperer she had been given up by her mother and raised by her father; in Domino, her father removed her from her mother’s family) but the drama of someone coming back into a family group after years away was something I really wanted to explore.


So, I created Heath Brandon, a young gay man in his early twenties who is working full-time to put himself through college. When he was thirteen, he found out (by accident) that the woman he believed to be his mother was actually his father’s second wife; his mother had committed suicide when he was very young and his father took him away from Louisiana and his mother’s family. His mother’s family is wealthy, and so every once in a while he would fantasize about reuniting with them and getting help with school. He is at work one night when he is approached by someone who not only knows who he is but has a lot of information about Heath’s family back in Louisiana—and more information about his mother. Soon, Heath is on his way to Louisiana to meet the family he never knew…and discovers that there are a lot of secrets being kept in the family mansion.


And Heath learns the hard way to be careful what you wish for.


The Orion Mask 300 DPII had a lot of fun writing The Orion Mask, and I hope people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


by Connie Ward

Lyle Blake Smythers

What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I was extremely interested in adventure stories and monster movies as early as elementary school. When I was in the sixth grade I was a big fan of the adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, his Tarzan books, the John Carter stories set on Mars, and the Pellucidar books that took readers to a strange world at the Earth’s core.  I started writing my own story, entitled Expedition into the Unknown, a highly derivative work that took some men in a giant Devil Drill to the Earth’s core for adventures among strange people and monsters.  It was not terribly good but I had fun with it.  When I got to junior high school I said, “This is awful” and abandoned it.  Since then I have been preoccupied with making my own stories.


What type of stories do you write?  And why?

After the science-fiction adventure novel I have mentioned above, which was never finished, I tried to write another one set in a remote valley in Africa, filled with strange creatures and primitive people. This was another Edgar Rice Burroughs rip-off, with elements of Tarzan. I worked on it in seventh and eighth grades and abandoned it as well. My high-school attempt at a novel was an Agatha Christie type murder mystery, large weekend party at a house in the country, etc. Also left unfinished.

My first finished novel was a short realistic children’s book about a bully and a bright boy’s attempt to organize an army to fight him. I wrote it during the first year I was out of grad school and working in the real world as a children’s librarian. It had problems with its tone and the voice of the narrator, and my attempts to get it published did not succeed.

After quite a few years of directing my creative energy into acting, as opposed to writing, I returned to my scribbling and wrote a heroic fantasy/swords-and-sorcery adventure, a mélange of Michael Moorcock, Peter S. Beagle, and early Ursula K. LeGuin, entitled Feasting With Panthers. This is notable for two reasons. It was my first published novel, and it was my first work featuring major characters who were gay and gay romantic and sexual relationships. It came out in 2012. Since then, my ideas and themes have centered around fantasy with gay aspects and elements. These are the subjects that fascinate me and make me want to write about them.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?

BSB-DeathBySinThey are tremendously supportive and proud of me, but I think some of the gay content in my writing bewilders them. It’s not that it disturbs them, but I don’t think they fully relate to it. I do gravitate toward some very strange scenes and kinky elements now and then, particularly in the scenes in my new book involving the sex drug, which increases the male orgasm but can only be triggered in a somewhat unconventional form of caressing or stroking. Check out Death by Sin for the sordid details. Ha.


Where do you get your ideas?

I read a great deal and rather widely across a variety of genres and enjoy different kinds of narrative. I also run across a lot of weird things on the Internet. When I stumble onto some interesting fact, I make a note of it. Death by Sin has bits of Irish folklore, Greek mythology, details about the Santa Ana winds, quotes from Gilbert and Sullivan, inside jokes from conversations with friends, and little bits of parody/homage to two of my favorite writers, Rex Stout (of the Nero Wolfe mysteries) and Sax Rohmer (creator of the evil genius Fu Manchu).


How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

I am mainly a pantser, flying by the seat of my pants and making up a lot of it as I go along, although I have a basic idea of what major events are going to happen. Filling in the blank spaces between these major peaks of action is where I get to surprise myself. I love it when a character suddenly takes over and starts doing and saying things I had not planned.


What makes Death by Sin  special to you?

It is a blend of dark fantasy, New Weird, and urban detective noir.  A little China Mieville, a little Jeff Vandermeer, a little Philip K. Dick, a little Raymond Chandler, in a realistic, complex, real-world setting combining elements of both science fiction and fantasy.

As an urban fantasy narrated by a Philip Marlowe-Sam Spade type of private detective from a noir film or novel, who happens to be a supernatural being, it is a substantial departure from the heroic fantasy that was my first book. It contains plot elements that have been in my mind for a long time: the sex drug, the mystery-thriller played out in a speculative-fiction frame, the criminally insane super-villain who is reminiscent of Fu Manchu. I’ve wanted to use all these ideas for decades and never got around to putting them together. Injecting a healthy dose of gay stuff into the mix seemed to do the trick.


How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

Friends who have read both Feasting With Panthers and Death by Sin say that the hero/main narrator is obviously me. I agree. I like to base physical descriptions of minor characters on people I know. My friends are invited to get the book and look for themselves in its pages.


Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?

Tennessee Williams, for his poetic language, and Storm Constantine for the way she weaves together mood and vivid imagery and the sexual fluidity of her characters (see the Wraeththu trilogy).


Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

The standard exhortations to write, write, and write some more, and to read widely and a great deal. Find your own voice and make your own magic.


When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

When I’m not among the books, I am onstage performing. I started in local community theater, which here in D.C. is of unusually high quality, and somewhere along the way I made the jump to professional theater that actually pays me something.  Right now I can be seen as servants in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, which we are alternating in repertory at a theater in downtown Baltimore.

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