When I was being interviewed for the Sisters in Crime podcast the other night, Julie Hennrikus (their marvelous executive director) asked me, through a series of interesting questions, to basically start tracing back my writing career and how it came to pass–in particular, the young adult fiction I write (for that part of the interview, at any rate) and so I was recounting how I had decided, in the early 1990’s, to try writing y/a horror/paranormal/crime novels, inspired by Christopher Pike and, to a lesser degree, R. L. Stine. This was the period when I wrote the first drafts for Sorceress, Sara, and Sleeping Angel…and when asked why I put them in a drawer and switched back to writing crime novels for adults (or trying to, at any rate) I remembered that it was because I had suddenly discovered that there was, in fact, such a thing as queer mysteries: mysteries written by gays and lesbians with gay and lesbian characters and gay and lesbian themes (there wasn’t much trans or bisexual or any other kind of queer crime fiction at that time–at least, not to my knowledge). I had known that queer fiction and non-fiction was a thing, but it was Paul who actually introduced me to writers like Michael Nava, Steve Johnson, and Richard Stevenson. When I lived in Minneapolis that bitterly cold winter of 1996, the Borders in Uptown Square (just around the block from our apartment) had an enormous gay/lesbian section that I visited every week, immersing myself in queer fiction and its history as well as exploring the new-to-me world of queer crime novels.
In the years since, I’ve watched the ups-and-downs of queer publishing, all while writing and publishing my own books. Queer crime is currently having a renaissance of sorts; new talents coming up with wonderful new titles and themes and stories that is very exciting to watch.
A good example of this would be Devil’s Chew Toy, by Rob Osler.
Half opening my good eye, I squinted up at the fluorescent tube hanging from the stained popcorn ceiling. The club’s manager had suggested the storeroom as a place for me to chill until my nose stopped bleeding. I appreciated the gesture. The idea was a win-win. It saved me from the pointing and whispers of the crowd, and getting me off the dance floor restored the party atmosphere typical of a weekend night at Hunters.
Despite the damage done to my face, the worst of the experience had been me being the center of attention for all the wrong reasons–embarrassing for most, excruciating for yours truly. Everyone who knew me would say I was quiet and reserved–perhaps to a fault. My latest ex has joked that my tolerance for thrill-seeking maxed out on the teacups ride at Disneyland. I’d brushed off the comment with a laugh, but in truth, the remark had stung. Being five foote four (rounding up) and weighing 125 (again, rounding up) makes one sensitive to such jabs. Add in the fact that I’m freckled and possess a shock of red-orange hair that that same ex had pegged as being the color of a Cheetos bag, and you understand why I make take offense.
“Damn, dude, you’re going to have a nasty shiner. Does it hurt?”
First of all, can I just say how lovely it is to read a queer novel that opens in a gay bar? It’s been a while since I’ve read one, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I read one that wasn’t published by a strictly queer publisher–which Crooked Lane, the publisher of Devil’s Chew Toy, most definitely is not. It was also nice to have the book open with such a bizarre and out of the ordinary experience–our main character, Hayden, was kicked in the face in a weird accident while trying to tip a really hot stripper, Camilo, who slipped and fell, ending with Hayden looking like he’s been in a fistfight. Hayden, who is a self-described “pocket gay” (from “oh you’re so small I could put you in my pocket and take you home”) and has low self-esteem, is more than a little surprised when the apologetic and gorgeous stripper offers to take Hayden home with him. Camilo is a very sweet guy and only wants to cuddle, and Hayden drifts off to sleep cuddled up with him.
But when he wakes up, Camilo is gone. Camilo also has a dog who needs to be taken care of, and then the police show up at the door looking for Camilo–whose pick-up truck was found, running, with the keys in it and the doors open, in a parking lot. There’s also the possibility that Camilo may have been involved in something shady–which Hayden, despite not really knowing the stripper, doesn’t believe for a minute. He also can’t just abandon Camilo’s dog–despite the fact his own apartment complex has a “no-pet” rule. So Hayden decides he needs to find Camilo, if for no other reason than to return his dog–and the story is off to the races. Hayden encounters all kinds of interesting queer folk while on his hunt for Camilo, makes some new friends, and we the reader get to know him a lot better (he’s very likable) as the story goes on, taking some surprising twists and turns along the way.
I greatly enjoyed this book. It’s very well written, flows nicely, and the plot makes sense–which isn’t always the case–but that comes as no surprise. Rob Osler not only debuted with this novel earlier this year, but his first publisher short story won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award from Mystery Writers of America this past spring for Outstanding Debut Short Story.
I’m really looking forward to visiting with Hayden again, and am excited to read more of Rob’s work.