Three weeks ago, I reviewed the new book Imogene in New Orleans by Hunter Murphy — a cozy mystery about Jackson Miller, his partner Billy, and Billy’s mother Imogene. I don’t see a lot of Southern fiction with gay characters, let alone central characters in relationships, so I was more than thrilled when Hunter agreed to write a guest post for me on that very topic! Enjoy, and as always, let us know what you think in the comments!
I had the good fortune of meeting Hannah at a recent author talk and she invited me to write a post.
She suggested a few possible topics, and I settled on the topic of writing gay characters in the South. I think part of what happened to Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote is they had to hide so much growing up in the first half of the 20th Century. These days, with Alabama considering same sex marriage, at least there has been a major shift toward accepting gay people and gay characters.
Personally, as a writer, I’m more concerned with finding times to write and also maintaining my hobbit lifestyle. (Truth be known, I probably have more in common with Bilbo Baggins than I do Liberace. Remember when the great hobbit Bilbo says, “I miss my books, and my armchair, and my garden.” I could relate. He fought against having an adventure, which amused me and reminded me of myself).
People love to talk about the “gay lifestyle” but the “gay lifestyle” I live is intentionally boring: I go to work, I pay my taxes, I have a bulldog, I have a longtime partner, I watch a lot of tv, I try to read a bunch of books, and I crave about 2-3 hours a day of writing, although what I normally get is a half hour a few days a week..
When I decided to put the gay couple and Imogene in a mystery series, I unintentionally created an entire book full of gays. I didn’t even mean to do it, but Imogene in New Orleans is totally gay. The murder victim is gay and so are most of the suspects.
What I admire about Imogene is her openness to people in general. The way I see her character is that she was born in rural Alabama at the beginning of the Depression, and she was more accustomed to surviving and helping people in her community to survive. Therefore, she had neither the luxury nor the inclination to be judgmental about Billy’s sexuality or anyone else’s.
“The Gilbert boy liked ’em rough, according to [them].”
“Mama, I don’t really want to discuss Glenway’s preferences with you.”
“You ain’t got to, son. Shoot. I’ve lived in this world a long time, and you can’t change what you like, even if you’d want to. And ’pparently, Glenway liked the rough trade. That’s all I’m sayin’. Catfish is a rough ’un, and we need to get after him.”
The character Glenway Gilbert couldn’t change what he liked (and he liked a lot of it). He was not based on anyone in particular. I didn’t want the book to be a cruising book, but I definitely felt that because of Glenway’s prodigious sex life, there were several people who would have a motive for killing him.
Glenway Gilbert had a large appetite. He had quite a few loves and he appeared to tire of them all until his last one. As a writer, it was compelling to me to try and figure out if one of his former lovers killed him or the person who stole his figurines, or both or neither?
And then I had fun with “The Ballet” in the book, the exotic dancing establishment where the victim liked to watch the performances. Many of the suspects for the murder had ties to “The Ballet” (which is most certainly based on a real strip club in the city, a famous place called The Corner Pocket).
I didn’t create gay characters for shock value. It just seemed natural considering Glenway Gilbert’s preferences. I’m interested to see what other gay people think.
I will say that it seems to me that Billy and Jackson’s relationship stands in stark contrast to almost all of Glenway Gilbert’s relationships. I plan for Billy and Jackson to be sort of solid throughout the series. I enjoy the fact that they’re like an old married couple. The next book will not necessarily have a lot of gay characters (except for Jackson and Billy), but as with the last book, it is not a conscious choice. I’m basing my decision on the murder victim and the suspects and their motives.
I’m interested to see what others think about this. I’m glad I live in 2015 Alabama, rather than 1915 Alabama. There’s a lot of bigotry here, but I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with decent human beings.
So, I suppose writing gay characters is not that unusual. I don’t write anything unless it entertains me. Because we live in a world where nearly two million books are published each year. I want my books to be successful (and I’m punch-pleased with how Imogene in New Orleans has done), but my first order of business is to entertain myself, and if I do a good enough job of it, then there’s a chance that others will be entertained too.
Find more about Hunter Murphy and his book at http://huntermurphywriter.com/.