Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Mystery Men: Novelist Christopher Rice Interviews Fellow Writer John Morgan Wilson about His Controversial New Murder Mystery, Writing Sex Scenes, and Why Gay People Love Detectives' Quest for Justice

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Mystery Men: Novelist Christopher Rice Interviews Fellow Writer John Morgan Wilson about His Controversial New Murder Mystery, Writing Sex Scenes, and Why Gay People Love Detectives' Quest for Justice

Article excerpt

Christopher Rice first met John Morgan Wilson in 2001, when both men were nominated for the Lambda Literary Award for gay men's mystery writing--Rice for his first novel, A Density of Souls. "In a year's time I had appeared on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, The Early Show, Extra, and the cover of The Advocate," Rice recalls. "In other words, just about everything had been handed to me on a silver platter. I expected the Lambda awards to be no different. I was wrong." Rice's book lost to The Limits of Justice, the fourth novel in Wilson's mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Benjamin Justice, a tough, battle-scarred openly gay ex-journalist who lives in the heart of West Hollywood, Calif.

More than two years later, Rice, 25, and Wilson, 58, are close friends. One day after a local book fair that Wilson helped to organize, the two WeHo residents met on Wilson's cozy, plant-filled patio to talk about Blind Eye--the just-published fifth Ben Justice novel (Minotaur/St. Martin's Press), in which Justice investigates the pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic Church--and to compare notes on writing about sex and death.

Rice: You've written four novels in which your hero takes on wealthy pedophiles, crooked cops, dirty politicians, and now the Catholic Church. A lot of people who wouldn't consider themselves homophobic might assume that a gay man just doesn't have the chops for that kind of stuff.

Wilson: When I wrote that [first] novel [Simple Justice], I never consciously thought, I'm going to write the antithesis of a stereotype, a tough-talking, two-fisted gay sleuth with real backbone. When I started writing, [Ben Justice's] voice rook over; the character was created right there on the page. He emerged as really complex, and what I felt was a real and honest representation of my older, darker alter ego. It's interesting: Sitting right here on this patio a few years ago, I was interviewed by a writer from the Los Angeles Times, and he said [about Ben Justice], "I was really surprised because the reader just has to accept that he's gay, and that's it. There's no apology, no explanation, nothing. He's just who he is." And I said, "Yeah, that's how I wrote him."

Another big question in there is, How politically correct can you be in a mystery? [At the book fair] I was on a panel about sex, and one author described how her sex scenes had been criticized because her character didn't put on a condom. My response was, "If you're looking for role models or standards of acceptable or safe behavior, you shouldn't be reading mysteries." I also think that there's something very organic about Justice's masculinity--that it's very believable that a gay man who's been the victim of lies ha his past, as Justice has been, would go after the truth so ferociously.

I think so many of us, all gay men and women, had to grow up learning how to lie, listening to lies, seeing lies all around us, sometimes lying to survive; it's a horrible way to live. So I think a lot of us may be obsessed with the truth and getting the truth out. And if that means being politically incorrect, I'll go after that from time to time in my books. And yet I have a friend who said, "Of course, all your novels are so politically correct." She's straight, she's narrow-minded, and I realized that to her, the reason [my books] are politically correct is that there are people of various ethnicities. Occasionally somebody turns up in a wheelchair; occasionally there's a transgendered character--to her, that's all "politically correct." To me, it's just the real world.

Political correctness segues into the next issue: pedophilia. You and I as gay mystery novelists are in this precarious position: We've got this horrible stereotype that all gay men are pedophiles and sexual predators, but we work in a genre where pedophilia is almost a convention. I have faced this with my last two books. My fourth novel, The Limits of Justice, dealt with a ring of wealthy pedophiles, and when I was done with that book I really thought I had it out of ray system. …

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