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An Interview with Steve Neil Johnson
What kind of books do you read?
Oddly enough, not too much crime fiction anymore. I just don't seem to have the time. Mostly nonfiction--research for my historical mysteries.
What mystery writer influenced you most?
There's no question it was the late, great Joseph Hansen, who wrote the Dave Brandstetter mysteries. Dave is a laconic and wise insurance claims investigator in L.A., and Hansen did a brilliant job of capturing the people of southern California from when the first book, FADE OUT, was published in 1970 until the series ended after a dozen entries in 1991. I used to read his early books again and again for their beautiful, staccato style. He's really the granddaddy of all gay mystery writers. The good news is his books are back in print.
Any books to recommend?
Always. My favorite book of the last several years is SHANTARAM, Gregory David Roberts' epic tale of love, crime and redemption in India. It's a masterpiece--a flawed one, which makes it even more interesting--and unlike anything I've ever read before, with the most swoony romantic prose ever written by a heterosexual man. Love that book. Can't wait for the movie. I also thought BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter was terrific, loved the structure and the sharp humor and the sadness.
Which of your books is your favorite?
You want me to pick between my children?
What gave you the idea to follow a number of gay characters over four decades, from the 1950s to the 1980s, as you do in The L.A. After Midnight Quartet?
I've wanted to do this series for many, many years. Every time I read a nonfiction book on the history of the gay community my imagination would go into overdrive. It probably started back in the 1970s when I first read GAY AMERICAN HISTORY by Jonathan Ned Katz, and continued with John D'Emilio's SEXUAL POLITICS, SEXUAL COMMUNITIES, and Stuart Timmons and Lillian Faderman's GAY L.A.
Are any of the characters in your books based on real people?
An awful lot of them. Certainly most of the characters in THE YELLOW CANARY and THE BLACK CAT are inspired by real people and real events. The same is true of the Doug Orlando mysteries. I have a tendency to take real people and events and stick them into my plots.
Are any of your characters based on you?
Well, when my husband read the Doug Orlando books when they first came out, the first thing he said was "the Stewart character (Orlando's English professor partner of ten years) is based on you." Basically, whenever the lead character has a Jewish boyfriend, that character's personality is probably inspired by me, even though I'm not Jewish. I also identify strongly with the wisecracking crow who thinks he's a raven in my children's book, EVERYBODY HATES EDGAR ALLAN POE!
Let's talk about sex scenes...
Strangely, they just seem to be getting better and better as I grow older... I was a wee bit worried I had gone too far in THE BLACK CAT, but was assured otherwise by the guys in my writers group. Although one did question if what I described was anatomically possible... My best compliment was when a woman friend of mine told me she reads the gay sex scenes in my books aloud to her husband in bed.
Should people read the L.A After Midnight books in chronological order?
Hell yes. And it will kill me if you don't. The books build on one another and you will miss so much if you read them out of order. So, if I get to vote, I say read THE YELLOW CANARY first, and then THE BLACK CAT, then THE BLUE PARROT, and finally THE RED RAVEN.
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