We’ve come to the end of the road with Jake and Adrien. The Dark Tide, their last book together which I’m calling “Jake’s and Adrien’s Long Goodbye” 🙂 will be released soon and I have a number of questions for their creator, Josh Lanyon. So let’s begin …
Hi Josh Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed one more time.
Since this might well be your last interview on this website [you made that a condition of this exclusive, plus I don’t know what I could possibly ask you after three interviews] 😀 let’s make it a great one. As you know, the reason for this interview is the end of The Adrien English Mysteries and here’s my first question.
How emotional are you, now that the series has ended?
“*Sob** What makes you ask? *blows nose loudly* (There, there!! Here are some tissues – you’re making a mess with all the crying. You have to control yourself or we’ll never get through this interview) 😀
Seriously? On one hand it’s a relief. I completed the story arc I intended — and I believe the series ends on a high note. Not a giddy, blowing my kazoo high note, but on the high note of still having had something to say, still having plenty of plot, and still enjoying exploring the characters. This book completes the thematic circle — that’s satisfying to me as a writer. But…I’d be lying if I tried to pretend that it isn’t hard saying goodbye to Adrien and Jake. I’ve been writing them longer than any other characters — I was writing this series during some of the toughest periods of my life — so I’m attached to them. No question. In fact, I did occasionally feel a flicker of disbelief when I’d remember that this was the final book.
Adrien English Mysteries which you started almost 10 years ago, is, in my opinion, the primary reason for your popularity – that’s where it all started. Of course you have written many other popular books much loved by readers, but they were all fans of Adrien and Jake (well maybe not Jake so much if you talk to Kris):) before they became attached to your other books. What do you feel are the keys to the popularity of these books?
Well, actually, more and more readers seem to come to me through the novellas — maybe the series sounds a little intimidating? — but I’d agree that AE is what established me — and probably defines my writing for a lot of people. As for why these characters and this series? Part of it is longevity. That sounds simplistic, I know, but ten years is a long time. It means a lot of readers have had plenty of opportunity to discover the series. It also means there’s been plenty of time to explore the characters in depth — and that does have a lot to do with reader engagement. As much as I love novellas (and I do — in fact, Fatal Shadows is probably technically a novella) the novel allows much more room for developing characters. Room for extended family and friends and love affairs and employee woes and all the delicious details that bring characters and stories to life.
Other elements…I think — know, in fact — that Adrien was a real change from the protagonists of gay mystery that had gone before. He came along when gay mystery was very much defined by three distinct branches: campy amateur sleuth stuff like Stan Kraychik or Fred Hunter, classic hardboiled private eyes and investigators like Joseph Hansen or Richard Stevenson, or the fun, porny pulpy stuff from William Maltese or Larry Townsend. Adrien was just…normal. Average. He wasn’t flamboyant. He was low key and sort of serious — but funny. Real life funny. He wasn’t a professional investigator — I love the fact that he sometimes gets it wrong. And he has sex, but these books were not sex romps. And of course it was a very small field back then. So that worked in my favor.
What surprised you the most about the characters?
That Jake married Kate. I didn’t want that to happen, but I couldn’t see a logical or realistic way around it. I knew the further I got into the book that this really was the way it would have to play out, but it was painful to write.
The big surprises, though, came with the side characters. Lisa was initially just there for irritation and amusement, but the more I thought about her, the more I saw that she was sincere in her fears and that her fears weren’t entirely misplaced. Also the Dautens. I started out cynical about them, but the more I thought about them, the more I saw that they were good, decent people — and that they were going to be very good for Adrien. Whether he liked it or not. And of course his feelings for Emma. Emma was probably one of the few surprise characters. I didn’t really plan on her — I don’t like kids (in books) particularly — and that Adrien would bond to her was unanticipated. But then I bonded to my nieces and nephews in a way I never anticipated either. (Funny, the similarities between you and Adrien.) 😀
Ha! * Unexpected lump in throat* All I can say is it is very hard to say goodbye to Adrien. (More tissues? I really think you have to learn some self control and stop being such a baby) 😀
You left the door open for a return of these two characters in case the muse strikes you. I assume, like other authors, you don’t want to completely shut the door to what has been a good gig for you. I’m curious – what would be a likely occasion for them to make a brief appearance? Christmas? A cruise?
I think this is a good place to leave it — to leave them. I could probably do some sort of holiday short — maybe along the lines of those little interview thingies, but to do an actual novel…I don’t know. I’d have to have a plot that really gripped me, that would seem so perfect for Adrien that it would inspire me to throw off the dustsheets and bang open the windows. I can’t imagine — at this point in time — what that would be.
This is the cornerstone of your writerly achievements so far, and I was wondering if you’re going to publish all of Adrien’s and Jake’s adventures in one huge omnibus (à la Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple or Poirot)? I’m sure the fans would love to have an A & J “collection.” A very attractive doorstop if they can’t lift the damn book!
Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine that this series would have achieved the heights of popularity that it did and still does?
To what do you attribute the longevity of the series and the characters? I have my own thoughts but I and your readers would definitely be interested in your perspective of why this “unholy” 😀 pair worked!
Part of the longevity is simply having that backlist made available again so that a whole new audience found the books. For that I want to thank Loose Id for making the stories available once more — and then Laura Baumbach followed by putting them back into print through MLR Press. I’m thankful to both — and I hope the books have proved worth their time and investment.
You’re probably referring to something else, though. As far as the story of Adrien and…whoever he ends up with…I think I had a universal theme and I paced it carefully. There was a strong and believable obstacle to him getting what he wanted, but what he wanted was believable and appealing enough that readers kept rooting for him — for Jake too. Readers liked Adrien and they cared what happened to him. That’s crucial in a series, but equally crucial is having enough story there to last over several books. That’s one reason why, although I could keep coming up with mysteries for Adrien to solve, the real story is pretty much finished. The series would have to turn into a different kind of series to continue on at this point.
What do you think is the single reason people are attracted to series books? You have written other stories that are almost as well received as The Adrien English Mysteries, but they always seem to take a back seat to this series and I can’t figure out why it has such a hold on your fans, aside from the great characterizations.
Again, I think longevity plays a role here. Ten years allows for some considerable word of mouth to spread. The series was well-entrenched with readers long before anyone thought of writing an m/m mystery, so I benefited enormously from that head start. There was never going to be any catching up to this series for anyone — including me — coming immediately afterwards. Give it a few years…who knows?
Your friend Batboy, a long time fan of the series, has a few burning questions he hopes you will answer, especially the last one.,
1. Your characters tend to be very vivid and easy to picture. One exception is Guy Snowden. It’s hard to tell if you intend him to be a pretentious jerk, a nice man with a few affectations, or none of the above. How do you feel about Guy?
Hey there, Batboy. I enjoyed writing Guy because he definitely has these flaws — the fake accent, the affectations, the tendency to sleep with former students — but he’s also smart, insightful, caring. Guy had to be attractive — had to have many fine qualities — in order to attract Adrien, but I tried to give readers enough clues that they wouldn’t get too attached. Guy isn’t right for Adrien. That’s not to say that no one besides Jake is right for Adrien, but Guy wasn’t the…er…guy. He was definitely a rebound relationship but someone Adrien cares about and would stay friends with.
2. What mystery writer’s work demonstrates best what you were aiming at in the Adrien English series?
Good question. I don’t know. I was trying to do what I hadn’t yet seen done in gay mystery — and I’d seen pretty much everything available (and tracked down a lot of what was out of print). I was greatly influenced by Hansen, of course, but I wanted to go for something a little lighter, a little more contemporary — at the same time I really didn’t want another over-the-top campy amateur sleuth. I wanted that noirish vibe of an ordinary guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And I wanted the relationships — all the relationships — to be real. To feel real and to evolve in realistic ways — because character is always the single most interesting element to me in any story. So I don’t know if a single writer best demonstrates what I was trying for so much as an informal update of the hard boiled literary tradition of Chandler, Macdonald, and Hansen — only with an amateur sleuth rather than a professional investigator.
3. In every AE mystery so far, Adrien has been a murder suspect. Is that to increase tension and provide a motive for him to investigate on his own, or just to keep him alert, defensive, and tossing out wisecracks? In other words, is it to help the plot along, or to reveal more about Adrien’s character?
It’s a combination. It adds a little tension and certainly motivation for getting involved in stuff he has no business getting involved in — it gave him a little more leverage with Jake — but mostly it does offer lots of room for Adrien to be Adrien.
4. As Adrien asked in Death Of A Pirate King, “Who are you and what have you done with that asshole Riordan?” Jake in Book 4 was drastically different from the Jake in the previous 3 novels. What happened in the intervening time to change him so completely?
Two years of marriage and a “normal” life. Or, more precisely, getting what he wished for. It tends to have a chilling effect on one.
I have a follow-on question – Did you change Jake’s personality as a sop to fans of the series who hate his guts, so that calls for “off with his head” would be reduced to a dull roar?
No. All my stories are about characters learning and growing. Assuming Jake and Adrien have a future together (and, frankly, even if they don’t), Jake’s character would have to show movement and growth. If he ends the final book in the same place he started out in the first, that’s not much of a character arc. And I’m sure most people have noticed by now that these books are almost as much about Jake as they are Adrien.
5. What does Adrien put on his chips?
Vinegar and salt — less salt these days. In fact, maybe he could sub fruit for the chips? (I love vinegar on my chips. I thought that only Canadians did that because Americans always make fun of us for having vinegar with our french fries or chips as they insist on calling them in Britain. 😀 )
What do you think is the one personality trait about Jake that stirs everyone into a frenzy? Fans of the series either love or hate him and it’s mostly the latter, after The Hell You Say was released.
Oddly enough I think it’s also what makes readers love him. There’s not a lot of compromise with Jake. He’s blunt. He’s blunt in what he says and what he does. It makes him effective and strong — because he doesn’t spend a lot of time overthinking or second-guessing. It’s part of his toughness, and part of what makes him a good cop and protector — but it also makes him insensitive and rude and unkind. And the inability to bend is what cracked him in the end.
What was your strategy when you wrote The Hell You Say? Obviously you knew the furore it would cause and the backlash against Jake that would make the fans who disliked him before have a reason to hate him even more.
The idea was never to make fans like Jake. 😀 The plan was to tell the story of these two guys — explore the impact they had on each other and how it changed their lives — within the framework of solving mysteries. Because nothing says “I Love You” like a high body count. If you read the books, it’s a clean trajectory. Jake says from the beginning that he wants to be married and have a family. He doesn’t stop wanting that, but his feelings for Adrien take over. Had Kate not got pregnant, it’s hard to say what would have happened — I think it would have all gone the same way only taken a lot longer to work through. I think it was actually kinder to everyone to get Kate pregnant. The readers who didn’t believe Jake would marry Kate were the starry-eyed romantics of the group.
(Can I say here, as someone who really loves Jake, that THYS really made me rethink whether I wanted to invest any more emotion in him?)
I have a few questions from the series’ biggest fan, thelastaerie
1. Josh, we know there will be an unearthed corpse in Adrien’s bookstore and you have written quite a few ghost or haunted house stories. Do you believe in the world beyond? Or were you the kid who slept with the lights on? *g*
Howdy, Eve! I am the kid that used to leap from the doorway to the center of my bed so that the monsters living underneath couldn’t grab my ankles.
2. Given the emotional highs you gave your readers in the AE books, did you ever get all choked up when you wrote them? If so, which particular scene(s)?
This always sounds goofy, but yes, I do occasionally choke myself up writing scenes — and when it happens I know I’m probably on the right track. I can’t remember if there are scenes in the first two books, but in THYS the scene when Adrien goes to the hospital to see Jake, the scene in the bookstore when Jake tells him he’s going to marry Kate, and the scene where Jake pushes him. They were all hard to write and they all moved me. In Pirate King there’s the final scene, obviously, but there’s a little scene when they’re talking on cell phones and Jake tells Adrien he’s disappointed in him. And Adrien responds. I find that scene affecting — largely because that’s the first time they really acknowledge what has gone between, the first time you get a sense that Jake is aware of what he did and that maybe he does have genuine regret. In Dark Tide there are a few scenes, but I’ll leave those to readers to decide on.
3. Despite some death threats from readers, Jake is undoubtedly the best-loved anti-hero. How much do you think his struggle (with his sexuality) is his own fault? How much of it is the world he lives in? And did you mode him according to someone you know (real person or fictional character)?
“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” I think we’re all, to some extent, the product of our upbringing — family, education, culture…these all play a role in who we become. It’s easy to stand back and say, “hey I overcame this, you need to do the same,” but none of us is the same and no one really knows anyone. I’ve never been big on judging people. (Judging their WRITING, hell yeah — not the person.) Hopefully that comes through in the stories I choose to tell; I have a lot of flawed heroes, a lot of stories about redemption. Jake is a fictional construct, but he’s sort of a composite of a number of men I’ve known. And not one of them was a bad man. They were all good men, as a matter of fact, but…
We’re coming to the end (I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief) 😀
too busy sobbing my eyes out ( Here’s another box of tissues – I can’t afford all the money I’m spending on trying to get you to show some restraint. Damn! What did I just say? Don’t blow your brains out)
What would you say to the original fans of this series when it was first published by Gay Men’s Press who don’t like the fact that instead of a straight 😀 mystery, the protagonists have sex with each other and it’s turned into half romance and half mystery? Some of these fans think you have sold out. What would you say to them?
It’s a common enough complaint. Mystery readers in general don’t like a lot of sex and romance in their stories. I knew that from the beginning. I don’t regret beefing up the romantic element because I enjoyed writing that — enjoyed writing the relationship because that particular relationship defined these men. The sex…I probably feel better about it having read Joseph Hansen’s work as James Colton. It’s so exuberant and life affirming that I think there is beauty in it. That said, there’s quite a bit less sex in The Dark Tide than the other books (with the exception of THYS). It wasn’t appropriate to the story this time — whereas in ADT and DoaPK those scenes felt integral.
Why did you decide to move the series to Loose Id? You knew that the target audience and demographic of Loose Id was quite different from that of Gay Men’s Press and that you would have to include some sex scenes between Adrien and Jake in order to sell the stories. Didn’t that put you off?
There are a couple of panicky emails between myself and Loose Id — I came across them the other day. 😀 I definitely dithered over the decision to move the series into the realm of romance. The funny thing is, if you were to ask readers of strictly romance, I’m guessing their view would be this series isn’t nearly romantic enough. Anyway, after GMP folded, I approached the usual suspects like Alyson, Cleis, etc. and none of them wanted to pick up a series in the middle. Everyone was willing to look at something new, but no one wanted the third book in an old series. And I still wanted to write this series, and I knew that readers still wanted to read it, so I had to look outside the box. I noticed ebooks and ebook publishing — and this thing called m/m romance. Not gay romance as I knew it, but not so far from it that I felt I couldn’t fit in.
Why do you think Adrien is so loved by the fans? And Jake ….. well Jake arouses other emotions I’m afraid.
I think Adrien appeals because he’s nice and normal. A lot of readers identify with him. He’s like…the boy next door. He’s not perfect but he tries to do the right thing and he’s kind. He’s got his flaws, for sure, but they’re flaws a lot of us share. And — and I think this is probably a big one — he doesn’t whine. He rarely loses his sense of humor. I think those are appealing traits — they are for me, anyway.
What would you like to say to Kris, Jake’s nemesis? How can we make her love him?
I fear Kris is a lost cause. She is one tough audience.*g*
And finally …..What would be your epitaph for Jake and Adrien now that they’re retired? I know they are not dead because you keep hinting that they might return, but just in case ……
So we leave Jake and Adrien (maybe together) on some desert island, drinking margaritas or beer, with no dead bodies and mysteries to solve, just spending the time in other more carnal pursuits – I hope with each other. 🙂