“I was always a storyteller” — Interview with Josh Lanyon (part 1)

Great news! Some days ago, I sent Josh Lanyon an email asking her if she’d accept to be interviewed on Skype, and she replied straight away saying she’d be delighted. Here I am now, fiddling with the button-down shirt I’ve donned for the occasion. I know I’m not going to have high tea with royalty, but shoot me—in my eyes, Josh is somehow like Male/Male murder mystery royalty, so I felt I had to dress up a bit. I realize I could have—should have—ironed said shirt, but anyway, it’s too late now; the Call-button has been pressed. When the connection is established, I see a sunlit scenery, and the woman I only know from her writing and the odd photograph you can stumble upon on Internet is sitting near a sparkling pool, a warm smile on her face and what looks suspiciously like a glass of Irish coffee in her hands. It is Irish coffee, as she admits in an aside during our interview. A nice little breeze is stirring some chimes I can make out in the background. Their soft cling and clang will pleasantly accompany our entire conversation.

ParisDude (all smiles): Hi, Josh. How amazing to finally be able to see you in the flesh—well, as much as our cam-to-cam get-together can be called “in the flesh”.

Josh Lanyon (with a little wave): Bonjour, Dieter! Ça va?

PD (surprised): Ça va, merci. You speak French?
JL (chuckles): Oh, un peu. A very little un peu. It’s one of my ambitions. To learn French. But I’m practicing my French for next year’s Salon du Livre (the Paris Book Fair that takes place every year in March, note from PD). I’m sorry it took me so long to get to the interview, but here we are. And (laughing) please, let’s pretend I can be coherent when I’m in the homestretch of a book.

PD (nods): I can’t even imagine how busy you must be at the moment. And I’m all the happier you found the time to squeeze our little talk into your schedule. (Thoughtfully). You know, for quite a while, you’ve been something of a mystery to me, mostly because your bio on the French amazon site presents you… as a guy! They even call you John in one place…

JL (pointing at herself and laughing): Well, I identify as female (she/her), but I suspect my publishers are being super-extra careful not to offend by assuming anything. Which of course I appreciate. As for John…? (With a wink). Well, I’m sure John appreciates it, too.

PD: So, I take it Josh Lanyon is your nom de plume. How did you come up with that name?

JL: The Josh is a bit personal, so I won’t go into that, but Lanyon is from Mary Renault’s classic novel The Charioteer. I read the novel in college, and to say that it changed my life would not be an exaggeration. And this is what we always hope as writers, isn’t it? That something we write may actually change someone’s life. Or at least make them think a little.

PD: I can only agree with you. Tell me, Josh… I surmise that you make a living out of your highly successful books. But if you weren’t writing, what would you be doing today? Jobwise, I mean?

JL: I would probably be teaching at a small private college somewhere. Oh! And possibly solving the occasional murder on the side! (chuckles playfully)

I must say I’m very relieved Josh is such an easy-going person. I tend to be shy and taciturn on first sight, but she simply makes me feel at ease, as if we’d known each other since time immemorial.

PD: I’m curious—what made you start to write in the first place?

JL: I’m that weird, rare thing. A born writer. And I was very fortunate in that I always had teachers, all the way from second grade through college, who encouraged and nurtured my writerly tendencies. By fourth grade I was certain I would be A Writer. (You can hear the capital A and W here).

PD: I’m wondering what wee Joshy might have been like… a whirlwind? A Shirley-Temple-cutie-pie? Or, like me, a quiet and shy bookworm?

JL: A skinny blonde little twerp with—now-embarrassing—imaginary friends. I was a mix of shy and bossy—and am legendary within my family for frequently dragging my kid sister into trouble.

PD (laughs at that): Ha! Almost hard to believe. What did that little California girl dream of becoming? Did she already know she’d be a famous writer one day? And how many of her dreams have come true?

JL: I thought I’d own more horses, that’s for sure (winks at me). Well, the truth is, I was always a storyteller. According to my grandmother, long before I was old enough to read, I would pick up books and explain what the story was in baby talk. And then once I had graduated to coloring books, I would spend the entire coloring session telling my sisters and friends the story of whatever it was I was coloring. (As an aside). I was clearly competing for Most Annoying Child on the Planet award.

PD: Well, let’s talk shop a bit, shall we? On our French site, livresgay.fr, we’ve just been discussing your Adrien English-series, so I’d love to know: how did you come up with the idea of creating the two main characters, adorable Adrien and tortured Jake? And where did you get that highly effective idea from, you know, the one that has them pine for each other without even the slightest hint of an eventual HEA almost till the very last paragraph?

JL: May I just say that I think it’s so terrific you have this site. Wonderful! When I first started publishing gay mysteries and M/M Romance, there were NO sites like this. (Thinks it over, then shakes her head). Well, to be fair, blogging and the internet didn’t exist when I was first published. But it’s amazing to see how the world of LGBTQ genre fiction has evolved in some twenty-plus years.

Anyway, thinking back to Adrien and Jake… I’m going to disappoint you, but I don’t remember exactly how I came up with those two particular characters. Before A&J I started many stories with gay male protagonists—a number of those stories were later finished and published as M/M Mysteries—you know, I Spy Something Bloody, Cards on the Table, The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks… But at the time those were simply for my own amusement. I had no idea there was any kind of market for them (in fact, there wasn’t).

I can tell you that when I create characters, I tend to create them in pairs. I believe I instinctively come up with two people who are compatible and incompatible in key ways. That creates a natural, organic conflict—no insurmountable obstacles, but realistic, legitimate challenges that would have to be overcome. My personal experience is that most relationship difficulties—and I include all human interactions in that—stem from the inability or unwillingness to communicate.

(Laughs). Now I’m forgetting the question!

PD (prompting): Adrien and Jake, and their complex love-story…

JL: Right. With Adrien and Jake, they fall for each other almost at once—and against their better judgment—but they do have genuine obstacles. Jake starts the series a very different person with different biases and attitudes from how he ends the series. And it is his relationship—really, his friendship—with Adrien that makes that character arc, that change of heart possible.

I think that’s how it works in real life. We meet people along the way who shape our views and change our attitudes. Or at least, that’s how it works for those of us with the ability to grow and evolve. (Sends me a meaningful gaze, both playful and serious). Not everyone has that ability.

As far as the emotional impact of the story… I think by writing in first person, I was able to write with more emotional immediacy? Intensity?

PD: Yes, I get that. (Putting a finger on his lip in thought). What I always find amazing is how much you as well as many other female writers seem to know about the gay male psyche… Is it merely amazingly empathic guesswork, or do you have a bunch of gay friends you can cross-check that aspect with?

JL: I’ve always had close, positive relationships with the men in my life, which helps, I’m sure. And I’ve worked in male-dominated industries. Most of my mentors were men. And good writing is a blend of experience, education, and empathy. You need all three to tell any kind of meaningful story. IMHO.

(Leans forward). Here is a very weird thing, and I have no idea how to explain it or why it would be true. For some reason the books I wrote about gay men were ten times more “real” (makes quotation marks in the air) as far as the characters and their relationships, than the novels I wrote about female protagonists. Maybe I feel pressure to create a certain type of female protagonist? Whereas, writing gay men allowed me simply to observe and relate—you know, relate as in report what I saw in the world around me, but also as in… connect with emotionally?

PD: I see. But there’s also the physical, bodily side… I mean… (winks)… the “mechanics” are not that hard to figure out, I guess, but all the rest? Sensations, emotions, thought processes during the carnal act? Not for all the world could I imagine what a woman experiences when making love. How come you seem to know so well what goes on inside us guys? (Chuckles). Are we really so easy to read?

JL: A certain type of writer—and men and women are equally guilty of this—focuses on the mechanics of sex, but when you’re having sex, you’re not focused on the technical aspects. (Jokes). Correction, maybe the very first time—AM I DOING THIS RIGHT???—but after that…no. (Grows serious) So, this…preoccupation with plumbing misses the very point, the very power of the sexual experience.

Sex is a very personal, intimate thing. But certain human experiences are universal. Our need as infants for touch, for example, and how it affects emotional and psychological development if we don’t get that. So, I try to always make sure my scenes are A – true to the characters—and every character has a unique history and their own psychological profile, and B – true to recognizable and relatable human experience.

(Laughs and winks). Okay, and yes, of course, I’m a grown-up sexually active woman who is reasonably experienced and reasonably observant!

This was the first part of my exclusive interview with bestselling writer Josh Lanyon, which due to its length will be published in two parts. Translated into French it will also appear on my French gay book website livresgay.fr. It was challenging to get hold of Josh as she’s in the middle of the final edits for her upcoming novel Mainly by Moonlight, which will be available on August 1st, 2019; I’m all the more grateful she took the time to chat with me. More about her new book in part 2 of our interview—you wouldn’t want to miss out on it!

Josh Lanyon Interview Part 2

About the author

Author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure, and unapologetic man-on-man romance, Josh Lanyon’s work has been translated into eleven languages—and one mobile game. Her FBI thriller Fair Game was the first Male/Male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, then the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016, Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan’s annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place on the list). The Adrien English series was awarded the All Time Favorite Couple by the Goodreads M/M Romance Group. In 2019, Fatal Shadows became the first LGBTQ mobile game created by Moments: Choose Your Story.

She is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), an Edgar nominee, and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads All Time Favorite M/M Author award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California.

Find other Josh Lanyon titles at www.joshlanyon.com

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Dieter, born and raised in Austria, studied Political Sciences in Vienna in the early 90s. He's living in Paris, France, with his boyfriend and working as a graphic designer. In his spare time, he loves to write, read, cook, take photos, and travel as often as possible. He’s already published two short-story collections as well as four poetry collections. His first murder mystery novel “The Stuffed Coffin” featuring Damien Drechsler and the dashing Greek student Nikos has been released on Jan. 6, 2019, and is available in English, French, and German. By the way, the French version "Le cercueil farci" has won the prestigious Prix du roman gay 2019 in the category murder mystery. Dieter runs a gay book reviews site in French and is also writing reviews for Gay Book Reviews under the pseudonym of ParisDude.