Josh Lanyon : Q&A
I have known Josh Lanyon for a number of years now and I was devastated at the big reveal last week. I mean …. why didn’t he tell me? Surely he knew what it would mean to me…. I adore Vampire themed books!! And he never once mentioned to me the fact that he has written one!? Wait. What? You thought I meant the old knicker-filler-saga? No. I am not personally invested in that part of his life. I am Switzerland 😛 so I am not weighing in with an opinion as such. In saying that, however, I have asked him to answer a few questions and he has graciously accepted. Why am I still referring to him as umm, him? Well he will always be Josh to me, I guess. And I will always have a soft spot for everything Josh-like ❤
When you first wrote m/m what was the reason that you picked a definite male name? As opposed to a unisex name, or even initials?
In 1997 I began submitting a manuscript to publishers. It was not memoir or biography or literary fiction. It was a mystery novel–genre fiction–featuring gay main characters.
I was form-letter rejected 29 times by both mainstream and gay presses. A friend suggested I pick a male pen name and submit using initials rather than my first name. I did and the book was immediately snapped up by a small, obscure gay press in England.
I was happy, but to be honest, I was also a little disheartened.
Do you see how it is that which makes it look more like deceit rather than merely being ambiguous?
Do you see how being rejected based on my gender versus the work itself seemed–and frankly still seems–outrageous? In this day and age? You know, I grew up watching women burning their bras on television. I was still in high school when Roe v. Wade was being decided. I am of a different generation, let’s put it that way. I’m the daughter of the generation of women who did not think it was okay to pay men doing the same job a higher salary because they had “families to support.” And by the way, that’s also my real life experience as a woman competing with men in the work place.
Don’t get me wrong. I love guys. I even married one. But don’t tell me it’s not about gender.
Why did you decide to “come out” now?
Originally I made very little effort to conceal my identity. My publisher was British and I wasn’t sure the books would even show up in the States. I was quite sure no one I knew outside of the mystery realm would ever read them. I wasn’t worried–I was barely on the internet. But around the time I was pitching The Hell You Say to publishers (because my current publisher was going under–as so many gay publishers were at that time) Drewey Wayne Gunn came along asking questions and making connections. He was writing a book called The Gay Male Sleuth and, like me, he had read nearly every gay mystery ever written. He immediately recognized similarities between Fatal Shadows and Murder in Pastel and he wanted to know if I was the same writer.
That scared the hell out of me. I was still toying with the idea of getting back into teaching. And I began to make a serious effort to conceal my identity. I made a much greater effort to create a persona for Josh Lanyon.
But very quickly that felt wrong and fake and, frankly, was too tiring. So instead I tried to walk a neutral line. I continued to use my pen name but I tried to keep everything mostly gender neutral.
I knew the truth would eventually come out, but I also knew unless I acknowledged it, most people would never give it credence. I knew I could deny it forever, if I chose. I also knew I could pull the plug on Josh anytime and that would also be the end of it. Or I could see how things developed. See if I ever reached a point–or more accurately where my loved ones reached a point–of comfort with the idea.
But I have to say that one reason I wanted to hide behind a male pen name was simply the safety afforded by being male. I wasn’t married at the time and from the minute I stumbled onto M/M Romance, I was nonplussed by how much attention I received–personal attention. And it made me nervous. There were a few incidents that made me conscious that there were people obsessed with me. Truly obsessed. You don’t have to read PEOPLE magazine to know how that can end.
I think you can see some of that in how certain people have reacted to this revelation. It’s one thing to express your disapproval or state your thinky-thoughts on the matter–it is a sensitive matter–but a handful of people have tried to turn this into something very different, very personal–an actual campaign to destroy me personally and professionally. That seems pretty extreme. You may not approve of my choices, but I think it’s probably clear I didn’t set out to injure or hurt anyone.
Right now I’m having to deal with unbelievable stuff like people setting up fake profiles for me–complete with male profile photos!–in an effort to make me look like…what? I mean, people who follow me know it’s been the martini glass forever. Okay, there was the cowboy, but did someone really think I was claiming to be a cowboy?! However, some people are new to this party and unfortunately a lot of people don’t want to do the research. They just want to believe what is convenient or titillating or feeds into their own preconceived ideas.
Is it frightening? Hell yes. These are not normal people. The level of hatred and venom? It’s not normal.
Does this better explain why I felt like the firewalls could not possibly be high enough?
Was the decision harder and harder to make as the years went on?
Were you always going to “come clean”? Or did something happen which forced your hand?
Nothing forced my hand. After the Gay Male Sleuth came out and Wayne basically shared his suspicions with the world–not to mention the whole trying to out me on Dear Author–I knew that unless I admitted it, most people would never believe it. Would prefer to believe I was a gay man. I could run as long as I liked. No amount of circumstantial or even evidentiary truth would matter unless *I* admitted it.
But in the last few years M/M changed from simply a bastard sub-genre of mainstream romance into something that was more reflective of LGBTQ fiction as a whole. There were a lot more men writing, for one thing. There was a lot more exploration of transgender, asexual, bisexual topics and themes. That changed the paradigm of pen name versus author identity and I began to try to quietly disseminate the information about my gender.
A lot of people did pick up the clues. (Though it turns out not as many as I imagined.)
But the decision to just get it over with came to me as I was writing Jefferson Blythe, Esquire. It’s New Adult and I knew I would be getting letters and emails from readers the ages of my own nieces and nephews. I didn’t want those kids contacting me with the wrong idea.
Do you understand that some people who you friended may feel betrayed? The trouble is I guess Josh was such a friendly guy – people across a whole range of social media outlets may feel that you are not who they thought you were.
Okay, this is a fine point, but to me it’s an important one. I do not friend people. People friend me. Which I take to mean they wish to be “friends” based on social media’s rules of engagement.
And this is the illusionary nature of social media. I feel very close to a number of online friends–a number of online friends have become very dear real life friends–but this isn’t the kind of info you share with your coworkers or friends at the office or even non-nuclear family members. This was my real life and it affected other people in my life. And the nature of social media is to share, share, share.
And I am not a share, share, share person anyway.
There were absolutely some people I should have spoken to ahead of time. But…in most cases, I kind of thought they already knew. I thought YOU knew, to be quite honest.
I am not going to lie… part of me is disappointed. I am a HUGE romantic and yes, I had hoped some of your real gut wrenching storylines felt so powerful because I read them as having been told from a gay man’s perspective. Imagining maybe it had been your experience. But that being said, I guess it makes the writing more impressive. It certainly doesn’t detract from the beautiful writing you have done.
Believe me, I understand.
Is the name Josh Lanyon special for any reason? Or just a pluck from a hat?
It’s special. I’m quite sure no one wants to hear about it. 😛
*puts hand up* I do ….
What came first? The Diana Killian books or the JL books? (Yes I could have just checked but what is the point of a Q&A then? 😛 )
Neither. I’ve been writing professionally since I was sixteen. Initially I sold poetry. Right out of college, I sold a Harlequin romance. But I preferred murder and mayhem.
What made you decide to venture into the m/m world?
I was astonished when I stumbled into M/M. It was so clearly, so obviously different from traditional gay fiction. Most of the women writing came from slash fandoms–this is no longer true of the genre, and I know there are people who want to argue that it was ever true, but mostly they are newcomers and do not know or understand the literary history of the genre they’ve chosen to work in. The women who pioneered this genre were a mixed lot, but one thing they shared was a willingness to explore and question and push the boundaries of gender and power and identity.
And how big a writing circle was there in the m/m genre when you first ventured into it? Was it predominantly male it? Was it predominantly male and was this the reason you assumed a male writing persona?
It was a tiny genre. It is still relatively small. At one point I had just about read every published title in it. As far as male writers? There was Bobby Michaels. That was pretty much it for the guys. The other writers with male pen names were not male any more than I was. To Laura Baumbach’s credit she brought in (I believe) the first male writers: William Maltese, Rick Reed, Victor Banis. They were all excellent writers–long established writers. Rick came from Horror and Victor was an icon in early gay pulp fiction. They brought a different perspective and sensibility to the genre, though mostly I think their work remains more properly classified as gay fiction rather than M/M Romance.
That is of course only my opinion.
I have a confession to make though. Yes! Another one. When Andrew Grey came along, I initially thought he was female. I mean no disrespect to Andrew, it’s just that his work was so romantic. His characters were unlike any men I’d ever met, gay or straight, and I *assumed* he was female. This is how crazy all these assumptions about gender and writing are.
So that was an epiphany for me. And I stopped making silly assumptions. I have learned a few things over the last few years. I hope I’m a little wiser, a little stronger, a little kinder.
How exhausting was it? Keeping up the different profiles?
It was impossible. I had to choose between them and I choose Josh. Which my mainstream friends believed to be absolute insanity as I had just signed a three-book mainstream deal for a new series with Berkley.
What are all your pen names?
Louise Harris, Diana Killian, Colin Dunne, Josh Lanyon.
So where to know? A joint web site with links to both genres? Or carry on as is?
Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
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I said at the start of these questions that I don’t really have an opinion, what I should have said was I don’t really care – I am a straight, 51 year old draughtswoman/aged care worker (don’t ask) BUT I do get that different people have different reactions to this news. And I respect that – all I ask is that any comments made here accord me, my site, and Josh the same respect. But was it news, really? The author had no photo on-line. No definitive family details. For the most part remained gender neutral. It was widely accepted that a pen name was in use. Within the industry it seemed to be a well-known fact that he was a she. I am not going to lie – I often wondered – and I definitely had numerous private conversations debating whether or not Josh was actually a female – we even jokingly named him/her Judy. (By the way, this has since been changed to JoDi.) People are upset that he wasn’t fighting the good fight for female writers – but not everyone is cut out for the role of ground breaker. People have their lives with their own personal issues which determine what route they take and why shouldn’t Josh be given that same right? Nobody was entitled to know what he wasn’t willing to divulge. In my opinion.
I bought his books because I loved the story telling; and of course I loved his on-line personality – that hasn’t changed for me. Was I initially disappointed that some of the stories weren’t shared gay experiences that the author and the book character had both lived? Yes I was. Not going to lie about that. I am a female reader who has read m/m romance for the beauty of the hard-fought HEA – I am a massive romantic and loved thinking Josh was in fact Kit. Or Adrien-with-an-e. But in the grand scheme of things – things that affect my life – nothing has changed.
So Josh, (yeah, I am going to keep calling you that 😛 ) thanks so much for answering my questions. I have done a number of Q&A sessions with you over the years – possibly none quite this important, so thank you for stopping by. I hope you have a great time in Scotland – and that we get to see photos now 😛
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A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. You can find out more at the Just Joshin blog or through Josh’s mailing list.