The author of gay teen mysteries talks about his books, fans and growing up gay
Mystery novels come in an astonishing variety of flavors--culinary, medical, paranormal, feline--but Josh Aterovis appears to have found something new under the sun. The 33-year-old Maryland native writes gay teen murder mysteries. Set on the Eastern Shore, where Aterovis grew up, his books star an inquisitive teenager named Killian Kendall. In Aterovis' debut, Bleeding Hearts, first published in 2001, Killian discovers he is gay just as his only "out" friend is murdered. Thus begins his career as a sleuth. The next two books in the series follow Killian as he negotiates small-town homophobia, explores his first romantic relationships, and tracks down killers. The books are surprisingly engrossing and, according to the author, many of his readers are adults. Aterovis' most recent book, All Lost Things, was recently named a finalist for Gay Mystery for the Lambda Literary Awards, a prestigious award for books that explore LGBT themes. Winners will be announced May 27. City Paper spoke with Aterovis by phone as he prepared to head to New York for the ceremony.
City Paper: Are there other gay teen mystery novels out there or did you invent the genre?
Josh Aterovis: According to Drewey Wayne Gunn [author of The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography], I have the only gay teen mystery series in existence. I didn't think I was inventing anything. I just started writing what came to me.
CP: I read in one of your books that Josh Aterovis is a pen name. Tell me about that.
JA: When I first started writing, I didn't use a pen name and I was getting a lot of unwelcome attention. People meaning well--wanting to go on dates, fly me to Canada. And my aunt in California and I would always joke back and forth that we were the black sheep in the family. "Black sheep" in Latin is aterovis. So it's sort of a nod to my aunt.
CP: Did you grow up wanting to be a writer?
JA: I was that little dorky kid who said, "I want to be an author." I loved books from the time I was a really young kid. My mom said when I was a kid and I ran out of books, I would sit down and read the encyclopedia . . . I always loved reading mystery novels. As a little kid, I was always the one reading all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.
CP: How did you decide to write for teenagers?
JA: To be honest, it wasn't my intention. I really wanted to show the whole spectrum of Killian's life. So my original idea was to have him come out and follow his whole life as he becomes a private investigator. I started at that age just so I could have a realistic coming out story. . . . So as Killian grows up, I'll probably lose some of my younger readers.
CP: Is Killian aging in real time?
JA: More or less. I've already finished writing the next two books. The idea is that hopefully they will come out once a year. It really depends on what the story calls for. He's age 20 or 21, and that's a real pivotal point in some people's lives, when they're figuring out who they're going to be.
CP: I'm assuming there wasn't much murder and mayhem in your young life, but are your books otherwise a pretty accurate depiction of what it was like to grow up gay on the Eastern Shore?
JA: The book is set later than when I was growing up. When I was growing up there were no out gay kids, so it was a lot more oppressive environment. I was bullied a lot more in school. Killian was growing up in a more accepting environment, where he could start a GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance] with his boyfriend. That would have been unheard of when I was in high school.
CP: Were you out in high school?
JA: I didn't realize I was gay in school. I grew up in a very religious family, along the lines of Will's family in my second book. It wasn't something I acknowledged and dealt with until I was an adult.
CP: So you were bullied for other reasons?
JA: They said I was gay. I was quiet and artistic and got good grades, and that's enough to get you bullied in public school.
CP: How did your family react when you came out?
JA: They didn't react very well. My parents and my sisters have come a long way for me. I was married for eight years to a man, and it was rough at first, but they came to fully accept him as a member of the family. I know it was not necessarily what they would have chosen, but they have adapted.
CP: Do you think it would have helped you to have had something like your books to read when you were young?
JA: That was a very big reason why I started writing. I was coming out at 20 and 21, and I started looking for books to read, and there weren't any books I could see myself in. So I decided, Well, I'll write them.
CP: Have you heard from young readers?
JA: When I first started writing, I used to hear a lot from people, especially when there weren't as many books with gay protagonists. Now, there are gay teens all over TV. It's a completely different world 10 years down the road. I got a lot of e-mails from kids saying, "This book changed my whole life," and from parents saying it changed how they saw their kids. Powerful stuff. Now, it's more the traditional fan letter: "I liked your book."
CP: Is there anything you want to reveal about the next installment in the series?
JA: The fourth book should be out this year. It is kind of the next chapter in Killian's life. He's still working for the private investigator. The title is The Truth of Yesterday, and it deals with male escorts.
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