Interview with the inestimable Josh Lanyon
I want to start this off with a full disclosure. I’ve been stalking Josh Lanyon since Fatal Shadows came out in paperback way back when. I’ll have to go dig up the book to remember its original cover but needless to say, it was a long haul waiting for the next Adrien book.
But no, I’m not bitter. Instead, I had the delightful chance to see an author hone his craft and produce an astonishing body of work. Bit by bit. But marvelously so.
I have my favourites. Everyone does. And to this list, I am going to have to add The Haunted Heart, Josh’s latest release. I spent last night reading it and probably will reread it because really, it was that good. Luckily, I nudged Josh for a chance to get an interview with him and pimp out his latest endeavor.
So please, welcome Josh Lanyon!
Aw. Rhys, you were one of the first friends I made online. You’ve always been so loyal and supportive — and you really have been here since the beginning. I just have to mention that.
First off, thank you for going along with this interview! I know time is precious and I really appreciate it. So let’s get started!
You recently came off of a self-imposed hiatus, can you share the obstacles you’ve encountered getting back into the groove of writing and how hard was it to not feel like you should be writing?
So basically I completely burned out and went crashing down in flames. I couldn’t think about writing without experiencing significant anxiety. By which I mean, I still loved coming up with stories and plotting them out, but every time I tried to begin the actual writing, I’d feel sick. Literally sick. On the bright side, I accepted that I was burned out and I knew the only way to get over it was to give up the idea of trying to write. That took care of much of the guilt. And I even eventually managed a couple of short stories. But then came January and it was time to get back to work for real. I realized two things.
First, I had not contracted with any publisher for this year, so I had no actual deadlines and no one depending on me to complete a project. Secondly, I was no longer just a writer, I was running a publishing empire. I had audio books, print books, translations, reverting rights, etc. to deal with in addition to writing new stories.
And, as much as I hate to admit it, there was a certain amount of insecurity. I’d been gone a year and things were changing in the genre. New writers were flooding in every week. I couldn’t help wonder if there was still room for me!
I think all those things combined slowed my usual creative process, which is why it’s taken me until now to get back up to speed.
You’ve done some releases since coming off of hiatus and The Haunted Heart: Winter marks a departure of sorts for you in the construct of a novella series—the seasonal references. Could you explain your thought process behind why you chose to break the story arc in this way and how does it feel different than constructing a full-length novel?
My poor readers. The only thing anyone really wants from me now is the next Dangerous Ground book and the third Holmes & Moriarity — and those are the books I most want to write too. But somehow the ideas coming to me are for stories like Haunted Heart!
When I first conceived the idea for the Haunted Heart series, I figured on four themed short stories or maybe novelettes — sort of like the Petit Mort stories I did with Jordan Castillo Price. They were going to be funny and spooky quick reads. But the minute I started writing I knew there was more, a lot more to the larger story than I’d realized — and that I was enjoying the characters and their relationship too much to rush through it. So “Winter” turned out to be a short novel. And for all I know that will be true of the next three stories as well. I know Spring has a lot packed into it.
Your characters in THH: Winter are quite vividly drawn. Flynn, for instance, is on the edge of panic in a few scenes and Kirk provides a solid anchor in many ways, although he does have a few cracks of his own. When creating this series, were you starting with a clear thought of the characters in mind? Or did you begin with a solid plot and moulded the characters along the way?
I had the idea of a haunted museum first. I liked the idea of someone inheriting a collection of strange objects, some haunted, some not, but all of them with their own story. At the same time (this is probably going to sound odd) I was thinking a lot about despair and about how the way through any tragedy is really simply to hold on and keep moving long enough to get past the worst of the pain. But at the mouth of the tunnel, you can’t see that. No one can. And that’s when the idea of Flynn began to take shape. Someone who is simply counting the days until he can end his pain. But he’s forced to take part in life again, whether he wants to or not, and the process of living through the year he’s agreed to wait out, changes him. Maybe saves him.
And then Kirk came to me. Someone who had seen so many terrible things, maybe done terrible things, but had survived and found a modicum of peace. But his peace has come at the price of shutting people out. And then here comes Flynn who is essentially un-shut-outable.
I often joke about the amount of “research” I end up doing for a book but many readers probably don’t realize the extent of what’s involved in writing something based on historical items or eras. Thank you for reminding me about the word ormolu. I will be using it in Words/Friends. Since Flynn is an antiquities expert—and much of the story revolves around the items in his deceased uncle’s museum inventory—your research had to have been extensive at one point. How in depth do you go for researching a piece and does it lead to ideas for your constructing the story?
Research is always a pleasure and a pain. It’s so easy to lose days and days looking stuff up! There were a number of challenges here — I guess there always are. I actually traveled to Connecticut to check out Chester and Essex and a some of the other locations. I did a lot of research on Creole culture and race relations in the South. Some things, ghosts and antiques, are stuff I’ve researched a lot for other works, so I feel on comfortable ground there. But you’re right. The very process of research always seems to generate new ideas or plot twists. For example, Ines started out French, but I was reading about the Civil War which then led to reading about slavery and then Creole culture and so on and so forth and pretty soon I had an entirely different picture of Ines and her story.
We’ve talked about historical and the eras we’d like to see written for the M/M genre. What historical era would you like to tackle or read about? And will The Haunted Heart series be touching on a wide variety of eras?
As far as M/M goes, I’ve seen little about the Civil War. And as far as romance in general, I’ve seen almost nothing about the American Revolution or the war of 1812 or the Spanish American War. Isn’t it so typical of writers to all pile onto the same raft and sail it until it sinks?
For the Haunted Heart series, well, Spring deals with the heyday of Egyptology. Autumn is probably set in the early 1900s, though that one is tricky, so I’m still thinking it through. Not sure about Summer yet. Creepy haunted dolls are sort of perennial, aren’t they? 😉
To shift gears a little, Kirk, Flynn’s stoic tenant and go-to stalwart comrade in THH:Winter, is a sharp contrast to Flynn. Despite the book being in Flynn’s POV, Kirk comes off as a very strong character and holds his own. Can you share a little bit about how you envisioned Kirk at the conception of the book and how he changed along the way, if any?
Kirk is a survivor. He can be tough and ruthless, but he’s also sensitive — he’s a playwright! — and kind-hearted. He’s seen things no one should have to see, and done things that no one should have to do. The interesting thing about Kirk is that Kirk has never really been in love. Kirk is the one who always walks away. He doesn’t even really believe in love. Or he thinks he doesn’t. So Flynn’s experience is completely alien to him, even baffling.
What I like in their relationship is even though Kirk does NOT want to get involved, he sees immediately that Flynn is going under, and it’s his nature, it’s ingrained in him to haul Flynn out of that whirlpool. He can’t help himself.
These next three questions come from Lisa, my partner in crime and coffee. THH:Winter is a set number of four works, if I recall correctly *grins*. When you say goodbye to a series and its characters, are you ever tempted years later to revisit them and see where they are now?
Well, Lisa, this is why we have Christmas codas! J
Have you ever written an entire book and then decided the plot wasn’t such a good idea after all? What tells you a book isn’t working?
Oh sure. Blood Red Butterfly is a perfect example. I knew halfway through it wasn’t going to fly. I was writing with my head, experimenting with tropes and genre, and I hit the halfway point and knew it was all based on a faulty premise. But what can you do? I had already committed. It was still an interesting experiment, and there are plenty of readers who love that story. I don’t regret pushing myself to trying something new.
The weird thing about writing is sometimes a story takes off and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, like in the case of BRB, you know exactly where it started to go awry. But sometimes the story just never sprouts wings. It isn’t that there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but there’s nothing magical about it either. And this isn’t something you can tell ahead of time. It happens (or doesn’t) during the course of writing.
It’s hard to answer that because basically I’m a story jukebox. I am either thinking of stories or working out stories. That’s 90% of my thinking, right there. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what I think about the other ten percent of the time.
And last question, is there anything you’d like to share with your readers? Upcoming releases? Gardening tips? Or better yet, what can we expect from you in the coming year!
Don’t over water. Let’s see. Upcoming releases. I want to reassure readers that I am going to do that next Dangerous Ground book AND the third Holmes & Moriarity. And a couple of short stories. As well as a Christmas surprise from the Adrien English franchise if humanly possible.
Next year I’ve signed with Carina Press to do the sequel to Fair Game as well as a stand alone romantic suspense novel called Stranger on the Shore. And I’d like to do the follow ups to Mummy Dearest and This Rough Magic, but I’m trying not to duplicate my old bad habits that led to burn out.
Thank you again for sitting down to answer these questions and really, the book was lovely! I so thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see what Flynn gets up to next!
Thank you very much, Rhys. As always, it’s a pleasure!
Follow Josh at his blog!
The Haunted Heart series. Four seasons. Four ghosts. Two hearts.
Still grieving over the sudden death of his lover, antiques dealer Flynn Ambrose moves to the ramshackle old house on Pitch Pine Lane to catalog and sell the large inventory of arcane and oddball items that once filled his late uncle’s mysterious museum.
But not all the items are that easy to catalog. Or get rid of…
Since Alan died, Flynn isn’t eating, isn’t sleeping, and isn’t spending a lot of time looking in mirrors. But maybe he should pay a little more attention. Because something in that 18th Century mirror is looking at him.
Read an Excerpt!
I didn’t see him see until it was too late.
Even if I had seen him, I’m not sure it would have made a difference. My only thought was getting downstairs and out the front door as fast as possible. It turned out the fastest means was crashing headlong into someone bigger, and letting his momentum send us both hurtling down the staircase.
My… er… companion yelled and cursed all the way down the first flight. Well, in fairness it was one long yelp and a prolonged curse. “Yooouuu’ve gotta be fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-cking kid-ding me!”
We landed in a tangle of limbs on the dusty and none-too-plushy carpet. My elbow whanged one final time into the balusters and my head banged down on the floor. I saw stars. Or maybe that was just the dust, which had probably crystallized with age.
“What the hell was that?” moaned someone from the ether.
What the hell had that been? It sure wasn’t a trick of the light. Though I’d done my best to tell myself that’s exactly what it was — and had kept telling myself that right up until the moment the figure in the mirror had tried to reach through the glass and touch me.
“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. His bare foot was planted in my gut, and I couldn’t blame him when he dug his toes in for leverage before lifting off me. “Oof!”
“What do you think you’re doing running down the stairs in the dark, in the middle of the night?”
I groped for the railing and pulled myself painfully into a sitting position. “I… thought someone was in my room.” Lying was second nature to me by now, but that was a stupid lie. I knew it, the instant the words left my mouth.
404-A — What was his name? Something Murdoch — got to his knees and gaped at me in the dingy light. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“I am saying so.”
We both turned to stare up at the wide open door leading into my rooms. My lamp-lit and noticeably silent rooms.
We looked at each other.
404-A was older than me, bigger than me, shaggier than me. He had a beard and shoulder length black hair. His eyes were dark and sort of hollow looking — that was probably the lack of sleep. He looked like those old posters for Serpico, but he wasn’t a cop. He was a writer of some kind.
And a lousy guitarist. Then again, I wasn’t anyone’s ideal neighbor either. As indicated by current events.
“You think someone’s up there?” He asked me slowly, skeptically.
I weighed a possible visit from the local fuzz, and opted for resident whacko.
“I did. But… maybe I was wrong.”
“Maybe? Maybe? Why don’t we find out?” He was on his feet now, yanking his red plaid flannel bathrobe shut and retying it with a couple of hard, businesslike tugs that vaguely suggested a wish to throttle something. Without waiting to see if I was following or not, he stomped up the flight of stairs. Guiltily, I noticed he was limping.
It was actually amazing either of us hadn’t been seriously injured or even killed in that fall.
“Coming?” he threw over his shoulder.
He muttered something, and not pausing for an answer, disappeared through the doorway.
I admit I waited.
He couldn’t fail to see the mirror first thing. It was as tall as I was, cartouche-shaped, mounted on an ornate, ormolu frame. It stood propped against a Chinese black lacquer curio cabinet. The slight angle created the effect of walking up a slanted floor to peer into its silvered surface.
A draft whispered against the back of my neck. I shivered. This old Victorian monstrosity was full of drafts. Drafts and dust. And shadows and creaks. All of them harmless. I shivered again.
Footsteps squeaked overhead. “You can come in now. There’s nobody up here,” 404-A called at last.
I let out a long breath and jogged up the stairs. The elfin faces carved in the black walnut railing winked and smirked at me as I passed.
I reached the top landing and walked into the jumble sale of my living room. My gaze fell on the mirror first thing, but the surface showed only me, tall and skinny and pale in my Woody Woodpecker boxers. My hair looked like Woody’s too, only blond, not red. Definitely standing on end, whatever the color.
“I guess I dreamed… it,” I said by way of apology.
“First time living alone?” 404-A asked dryly. He was standing right beside the mirror, his own reflection off to the side.
“Ha,” I said. “Hardly.” But come to think of it, he was right. I’d lived at home until college and then after college, I’d lived with Alan. This was my first time completely on my own. “Anyway, sorry about dragging you out of bed and knocking you down the stairs. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine.” He continued to eye me in a way that seemed a bit clinical.
Yeah. I got the message. Maybe I had dreamed it. What a relief to realize it was just a nightmare.
If only I slept.
“Come to think of it, you were already on your way up here,” I remembered.
He said bluntly, “I was going to ask you to stop pacing up and down all night. The floorboards creak.”
“Oh.” My face warmed at this rude but effective reminder that I wasn’t alone in the world. Not even this dusty and dimly lit corner of the world. “Sorry.” To be honest, I forgot he was even in the building most of the time. He was pretty quiet, other than the occasional fit of guitar picking, and it was just the two of us here at 404 Pitch Pine Lane. It was a big, ramshackle house, and we were neither of us the sociable type.
I glanced at the mirror again. Just me and the edge of my neighbor’s plaid bathrobe in its shining surface. The reflection of the ceiling chandelier blazed like a sunspot in the center, obliterating most of us and the room we stood in.
I looked more closely. Had something moved in the very back of the reverse room?
404-A glanced down at the mirror and then back at me. He said, “I have to work tomorrow.”
“Sure. I didn’t realize you could hear me.”
He unbent enough to say, “I mostly can’t. Only the floorboards. Mainly at night.”
“I’ll make sure to pace in the other room.”
“Great.” He pushed away from the cabinet and headed for the door. “I’ll let you get back to it.”
His reflection crossed the mirror’s surface, large bare feet, ragged Levi’s beneath the hem of the bathrobe.
“Night,” I said absently. I remembered to ask, “What’s your name again?”
“Murdoch. Kirk Murdoch.”
“Right. Night, Kirk.”
I watched the mirrored reflection of the door closing quietly behind him.