How I came to write gay mysteries

I never set out to write mysteries, gay or otherwise. When I launched my career as an author, it was with short stories.

But one of them, “Remind Me to Smile,” featured a couple of academics faced with a bizarre situation: Stefan has gotten an ex-lover of his a job in the English department where they work and feel at home. Nick is outraged, and then depressed when Stefan invites the ex to dinner.

The good ended happily and the bad unhappily, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. That was what this particular fiction meant, anyway.

My first editor at St. Martin’s Press, the legendary Michael Denneny, was very taken by the story, only he said the dinner guest should have been poisoned. And then a few years later, when I was wondering where I should take my career after a collection of short stories, a novel, and a study of Edith Wharton, Denneny said, “Nick and Stefan could be like Nick and Nora Charles.”

That’s when the Nick Hoffman series was born. I’ve been writing it over the years because I loved the characters, and because I loved the academic setting where, as Borges put it so well, bald men argue over a comb.

I was already a fan of mysteries before I started; I grew up in a household filled with Agatha Christie books, and I was reviewing mysteries and thrillers for the Detroit Free Press. That made me determined to avoid one thing: sleuths who don’t get changed by what happens to them. In far too much crime fiction, the protagonist discovers a body and then goes off for breakfast at Denny’s, as if nothing’s happened.

Years ago, when I first met Walter Mosley, we talked about ways to keep a series from becoming routine for the author. He said his strategy was to take the series through historical changes, and see how they affected Easy Rawlins.

In the Nick Hoffman series, Nick ages and is definitely changed by the deaths he encounters. His relationship with Stefan develops, too. Depicting a loving gay couple over time, and under stress, has been one of the joys of this series, whose books are now appearing as eBooks for a new audience.

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6 Responses

  1. I just discovered this series with “Death of a Constant Lover” – enjoyed it very much! By allowing Nick and Stafan to age and be changed by their experiences, you make them more human than so many fictional detectives.

  2. To follow the changes in Nick and Stefan over time, I’d think that reading in order would be optimal. Just my opinion.

    Lev, when/how will you let us off the hook regarding Stefan’s flirtation w/ Catholicism (in Hot Rocks, the latest book)?

    • Meredith, I bow to your wisdom.

      And when I write the next one, I’m sure Stefan will be further along on his journey. đŸ™‚

  3. My first mystery, Larkspur, included a successful gay “marriage” as a crucial part of the plot. I put marriage in quotations because at the time the idea was so wild and daring. Isn’t that funny?

    In general, I think a developing relationship among recurring characters is what drives a good mystery forward toward being a good series.

    Sheila

  4. Times have truly changed, haven’t they?

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