Thank you for introducing yourself and your work to my readers.
1. I read a great many books and Bell in the Fog offered me not a protagonist that wasn’t necessarily broken (although, emotionally he was), but one so emotionally honest I immediately became attached and will not forget. How important was it for you to keep an emotional honesty in this novel?
Well first, thank you for your kind words! I think all novels rely on emotional honesty. Even with an unreliable narrator or third person, emotional honesty is at the core of why we feel for characters, relate to them, and sympathize with what they’re going through. So it’s always one of the most important things.
2. The novel is set in the 50s, after WWII, and before Korea, reminding readers what society was like at that time regarding social issues. I am so grateful we are evolving. Was that your intent, to remind readers what that time was like so they could reflect on the present?
This is an interesting question, because intent is such a hard word for me. Going in, I think my only main intent was to write a good mystery and show the vibrant world of pre-stonewall gay life during a time when queerness was so actively persecuted. But once I set that intent and wrote these books, I do start to see similarities with queer oppression today, and while I might not try to make clear parallels, they’re kind of inevitable. With both The Bell in the Fog, and the first Andy Mills mystery, Lavender House, I found myself constantly stumbling into historical parallels I actually worked hard to make more subtle.
3. Andy is vibrant in his portrayal that I am sorry he is not a real person and I can meet him for coffee. How did you get beneath his skin and into his heart?
So much of Andy started with his opening scene in Lavender House. I knew I wanted a detective, caught in a raid on a gay bar, his life over in some regard, but I also knew I wanted that to be a gateway to a new life. But the question was always “what kind of gay man becomes a cop when the cops are raiding gay bars?” And that resulted in a complex guy; scared, proud, and genuinely hoping to help people but often so concerned with protecting himself he misses opportunities to do so. Now, in Bell, we get to see him trying to make up for that, trying to become someone better. That was the important thing I kept in mind writing him this time. He’s trying to help, he’s trying to be better.
4. You offer a male homosexual perspective and that from a gay woman. Was it important to you to widen your gender base?
And don’t forget Lee, who I think today might identify as genderqueer! I wanted to show a whole spectrum of queer identities, to show that we’ve always existed, in our myriad ways, even when what those identities meant at the time were different. So even though these books are first person, only from Andy’s point of view, I tried to have all kinds of queer people and their experiences on the page.
5. Love is exploded in your novel as a prominent theme: romantic love, friendship, renewed love, complicated love, and letting go of love. I probably am not naming all of the minor themes under love or misnaming some. When you write, and the story evolves, do you also see your themes evolving? And if you do, how do plot them to arc so nicely?
I try not to map out thematic stuff. I start with character, and getting them into what I think is a situation that’ll allow me to explore them, the world, and let them attain something important. Level up in some way. Once I’ve mapped that out and start writing it, the theme tends to become clearer to me, and it’s only in editing those early drafts that I try to make sure it all lines up and evolves. So while I knew this would have an ex and a new potential relationship, because that’s a fun set-up, the ideas of love weren’t mapped out until after I had plot and character down. I think theme evolves from those.
6. You bring in the higher brass. While your characters are past lower Navy seamen and women, I see why this was important to the story. But how do you think this broadened the overall mystery for the readers?
Well, it required more research on my part. But I did really want to explore the queerness of the military in WW2. There’s an amazing book, Coming Out Under Fire, by Allan Berube, that I used for a lot of my research. I could only use a fraction of the things in it, sadly, but it amazing how queer the military was. WW2 brought together a lot of people from across the country, which meant that suddenly, the one gay guy from his small town in Iowa was on a base in San Francisco with hundreds of other queer people. It created queer communities, and that crossed ranks. But in terms of the mystery, I think introducing people with more power always raises the stakes, because power over other people is always a weapon, waiting to be used.
7. This novel reads so smoothly that I visualize the scenes. Have you played with screenwriting?
In college, I was originally a playwriting major, until I started writing a novel. So I’ve dabbled, sure, most writers have. But it’s not something I’ve done on any professional level at this point.
8. I see you have written YA books before this detective series. What brought you to the mystery genre? And I may be just uninformed about your YA books. So please let us know what you like to write.
I write everything. My first novel was an adult steampunk romance, and since then I’ve done literary middle grade, YA romance and thrillers, adult sci-fi… I write what I would like to read, and I read broadly. But I’ve always loved classic noir. I was raised on the old bogart and bacall movies, and I knew I’d do a historical mystery at some point, I just needed to find my way in, my version of that. A visit to San Francisco and reading about The Black Cat did that for me.
9. Whether YA or mystery, who has most influenced your work?
I’m not sure any one thing influences my work more than others. What makes an authors voice unique, no matter what genre the write in, is the sum of their parts; why they wanted to write this book, why they wanted to write it this way. The author themself may not have a solid answer to those questions, but the answer is in who they are, everything they’ve experienced, whether that be life events, or art that touched them in a particular way. It all influences us.
Well, Lavender House is out in paperback in just a few days, and The Bell in the Fog is out next month! After that, in November, is Emmett, my YA contemporary queer version of Jane Austen’s Emma. After that, the third Andy Mills book will be out next year, and the fourth the year after that. There are some other things in the works too, but nothing announced yet. The best place to find out more, though, is on Instagram, where I’m @LevACRosen, or on my webpage, www.LevACRosen.com. Thanks so much for talking with me!