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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Bound Pleasures
by Owen Keehnen

This article shared 5219 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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Let's get right between the covers.

Most folks familiar with mystery novels will also be familiar with Steven Saylor and his novels set in ancient Rome. In my inexplicable but ongoing quest to de-mystify the gay and lesbian sleuth/ whodunit writers I was lucky enough say 'Hey Saylor' and chat a bit with the chalice and sandals series master—the author of such wonderful mystery books as Roman Blood, Catalina's Riddle, The Venus Throw, A Mist of Prophecies, and The Arms of Nemesis.

Owen: What first attracted you to the subject of your ancient Roman mysteries?

Steven: I've had a prurient interest in ancient Rome and Greece from childhood, thanks mostly to the movies like Spartacus (John Gavin in the baths), Cleopatra (Liz in a million costumes), and of course those cheesy gladiator muscle-fests like Hercules with Steve Reeves. My interest grew slightly less prurient when I went to college and seriously studied ancient history and the classics. A fascination with mystery fiction came later, when I read every word of the Sherlock Holmes stories from beginning to end and found I was hungry for more.

Owen: Do you get a lot of input from classicist readers?

Steven: Yes, and from all over the world, thanks to e-mail (and having the books translated into 13 languages, most recently Serbian). My Web site is easy to find (, and there are hundreds of scholars out there who know more than I ever will about some tiny aspect of Roman life, so I have to be very scrupulous about detail. But the academic world seems to have accepted me; a couple of years ago I was invited to give the commencement address to the Classics Department at UC Berkeley, which was a career high for me.

Owen: What do you think it is about your personality that especially suits your being a mystery writer?

Steven: There's a quote from Cicero: 'Nature has planted in our minds an insatiable longing to see the truth.' That applies very much to Gordianus, my sleuth, and to me, too, which I suppose explains my addiction to both writing and reading mystery fiction: a deep longing to see the truth uncovered. We live in a world so thick with lies (every gay person knows this from very early in life) that it's a great relief to escape into a book in which truth actually matters.

Owen: When you are working on a mystery what is the first thing you decide upon—the murderer, the victim, the motive, the means ... ?

Steven: Since I write historical fiction, the very first element is the setting, and sometimes there's an actual crime for which we've got evidence from the historical record, and that's what I build the plot from. In that case, all or most of the elements you mention are already in place for me. But when I do have to make up the crime myself, those four elements all have to come together pretty much at once, simply to make sense and to resonate with the rest of the plot and the theme of the book. The crime and everything around it has to somehow reflect the message I'm putting across. I think that's very important in a mystery novel, to elevate it above being merely a puzzle. When the theme, the puzzle, and the history all come together at the end of a book and all resonate in harmony, I think that makes for a deeply satisfying read.

Owen: And from all your experience writing what is the main thing you have learned that you feel has really helped improve your work?

Steven: That old adage, 'Write what you know,' doesn't mean you have to write about your everyday life or the town where you grew up; it means you've got to reach deep inside and find the kind of story that lights up the world for you, whether that's a Tolkien-style fantasy, or an erotic thriller, or stories set in the ancient world. If you're lucky, you'll find readers who like what you're doing and you'll be allowed to actually make a living at it, which seems to be what happened with me, for which I'm very grateful.

Owen: What mystery writers do you admire?

Steven: I cannot get enough of Ruth Rendell. She's a household word in England, but not as well known here. She's grim, darkly funny, and the absolute master of plotting. I was honored to dine with her last time I was in London, and was amazed to find she also keeps a busy schedule attending The House of Lords, where she's what they call a Life Peer, thanks to being named Baroness Rendell some time ago. I admire her amazing energy and drive, and her books are completely addictive.

Owen: What are you working on now?

Steven: The next book in the Roma Sub Rosa series is called The Judgement of Caesar and follows my sleuth Gordianus to Egypt for a fateful meeting with Cleopatra. I've been building up to Cleopatra for several books now, and I think my vision of The Queen of the Nile is rather different from the way she's usually portrayed. This was a woman who married her brothers, ruthlessly put her own siblings to death, and literally considered herself a goddess. 'Mad, bad, and dangerous to know' might sum up the Cleopatra whom Gordianus encounters. The book should be out in spring 2004. ____

And there's more exciting news for fans of the Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa novels ... the second novel in the series, The Arms of Nemesis, has been adapted for the big screen by scribe Donald Westlake (the Oscar-nominated writer, for adaptation of The Grifters). But as yet no further advancement has been made in the filming or production. ____

Some additional news on the gay literature/film adaptation front. Mike Nichols is directing Tony Kushner's Angels in America (both 'Part 1: Millennium Approaches' and 'Part 2: Perestroika') for telecast on HBO this December. The beyond distinguished cast includes the mega talents of Al Pacino as Roy Cohn, Emma Thompson as The Angel, Meryl Streep as Hannah, and Mary-Louise Parker among others.

Gay writer extraordinaire, John Rechy has a new book on the shelves, The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens. Rechy (recipient of such prestigious awards as The Publishing Triangle's William Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award and the PEN-USA West's Lifetime Achievement Award) is the author of such novels as City of Night, The Coming of Night, Bodies and Souls, Our Lady of Babylon, Numbers, and Rushes. Recently I had a chance to toss a couple questions his way.

Owen: How about a teaser for your new book The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens from Grove Press?

John: The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens is my 12th novel, 13th book (The Sexual Outlaw is non-fiction, documentary). It's loosely based on Henry Fielding's picaresque novel Tom Jones, but it takes place today, in Texas, Las Vegas, and California. It follows a young Texan, Lyle Clemens, son of a Miss America aspirant and an unknown father, from his adventures with cunning televangelists, who want to turn him into 'The Lord's Cowboy,' on through Los Angeles, where, after an incident at The Playboy Mansion, he becomes 'The Mystery Cowboy,' and, finally, on Hollywood Boulevard a naked cowboy. It's funny and sad at the same time, and my gay readers will not be disappointed because although Lyle is not gay—but very accepting—it also has several gay characters, including what I hope is a very tender gay romance.

Owen: 12 novels, 13 books—if you were to give one predominant theme in your writing, what would it be?

John: A predominant theme? Please don't think I'm being lofty. But that would be this: 'There is no substitute for salvation.' That phrasing occurs in every single one of my books. What that indicates to me is that very early on a horrible betrayal occurs, when we discover the meanness in the world (no benign God), and so we try to substitute for that huge vacuum with sex, drugs, the whole spectrum of possibilities—and finally discover there is no substitute, and we're left with yearnings that can never be fulfilled.

Owen: I also wanted you to know, too, that reading City of Night when I did changed my life.

John: I've written so many books that are better than City of Night, but even today people will come up and say to me, I loved your book. Which one? City of NIght, of course. Eventually, I know, the rest of my work will be evaluated correctly, among the best of its time.

Owen: Thanks John. ____

Also out now, Fourth Estate/Harper Collins has The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, which should prove fascinating since it is the first publication of the uncensored transcripts of Wilde's notorious 1895 trial. (Though reading it could be the sort of thing that makes a person's blood boil!—OK, mine anyway.) Despite the fact that it all happened over 100 years ago, the topic seems especially pertinent these days and a grim reminder what with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding sodomy laws. The book also includes an introduction by Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland. ____

Well, a few weeks ago Madonna's first children's book, The English Roses, hit book stores to solid sales and mostly positive reviews. On Nov. 10, Viking Children's Books is publishing the second of her five children's novels, Mr. Peabody's Apples. It's odd to consider that an entire generation could possible know Madge primarily as a writer. ____

Also coming this November from Kensington Books is the debut novel/mystery from TV series and screenwriter Rick Copp (The Golden Girls/Wings/The Brady Bunch Movie). Here's a guy who seems to definitely be writing about the world he knows. The Actor's Guide to Murder features the tag line —Love this—'Where there's a murder, there's a method ... .' Anyway, the book introduces gay detective/fictitious former child star Jarrod Jarvis—and faster than you can say 'West Hollywood,' Jarrod becomes embroiled in murderous doings. There's death and danger in the land of dreams. This mystery promises to be a funny, fast-paced and entertaining, and hopefully is just the first in a successful new series.

This article shared 5219 times since Wed Nov 12, 2003
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