Author Articles: Josh Lanyon introduction post on m/m mystery

Hello – and a big, big thank you to Larissa! I’m thrilled to be here at BookWinked blogging the very first installment of my new monthly column Killing It – Writing the M/M Mystery.

For those who don’t who don’t know me, I’m Josh Lanyon, and I’ve been earning my living writing male/male or gay mystery for the past decade—which is no small achievement. I’m the author of Man Oh Man! Writing Quality M/M Fiction, but why should you listen to me on the topic of writing mysteries?

Well, as Josh Lanyon my work has been translated into ten languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first Male/Male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. The novel Stranger on the Shore was the first male/male romance to make it into print in Italy. The Adrien English Mysteries series was awarded the All Time Favorite Male/Male Couple by the Goodreads M/M Romance Group. I’m an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads All Time Favorite M/M Author award. I’m also the first foreign author to place in Japan’s annual and highly competitive Best Boy Love Novel List organized by the Kono BL ga Yabai magazine.

Now you might be thinking, that’s all well and good, but the Male/Male and Gay Mystery genre didn’t used to be so terribly competitive and, after all, getting published by a digital first publisher is nice, but it’s not quite like the validation of getting published by a mainstream print publisher. As Diana Killian, I’ve sold two successful cozy mystery series to mainstream publishers Pocket and Berkley Prime Crime. I’m married to Kevin Burton Smith, the owner of the well-known Thrilling Detective Website (the place Wikipedia goes for info on private detective fiction) and together we’re writing a nonfiction book for McFarland & Company titled Mr. and Mrs. Murder on fictional husband and wife sleuthing teams. I’m also at work on a nonfiction book titled Writing Killer M/M Suspense and Mystery.

I’m not exaggerating when I say my entire writing life has been devoted to mystery fiction–and my ruling passion for most of that time has been the Gay (now Male/Male) Mystery genre.

So those are my credentials. The question is, how can I help you be more successful at writing and selling your Gay or Male/Male Mystery in an increasingly crowded marketplace?

To answer that, I’ll need your help. Comment below to let me know what topics would be of interest to you in the coming months, and I’ll do my best to address them.

In the meantime: Five Things You Can Do to Improve Your Mystery Writing Now

1 – Figure out what type of crime story you’re writing. Despite sub-genre snobberies, there is no “better” or “more important” category. Some people prefer cozies, some people prefer romantic suspense, some people prefer thrillers. Write whatever you enjoy, but understand the demands of your chosen sub-genre. That will make it easier when the time comes to target your promotion to the right audience.

Here’s a tip. Your audience is not “everyone who likes a good mystery.” Seriously.

2 – Make sure that every single character in your story has a motive. And I don’t mean a motive for committing the crime. I mean a reason for every single thing they do.  Not just a reason, a believable reason. Because in real life, we all have reasons for the things we do — in fact, we often have several reasons, even if we appear to be behaving inexplicably and unreasonably.

If your characters are acting out merely in order to advance the plot, go back to the drawing board and figure out a plausible reason for their actions. And then lay the groundwork so that your reader believes this character would act that way given this certain set of circumstances.

Here’s a tip. “In real life people act out of character” is not sufficient motivation. Fiction has to make sense in a way real life does not.

3 –  Have at least three viable suspects for the crime. Of course, when the book starts out, everybody is a viable suspect, but by the mid-point of the story, most readers have ruled out the majority of potential suspects. Keep it entertaining for the reader and make sure there are at least two — ideally three — viable suspects remaining. Which of course goes back to making sure everyone has believable motives for the things they do.

Here’s a tip: Good people do bad things. Don’t be afraid to make your villain sympathetic or even likable. Everybody has a breaking point, and maybe your likable, sympathetic culprit got pushed too far.

4 – FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE HAVE SOMEONE DO SOME GENUINE INVESTIGATION. All useful information can not come via a cop boyfriend. Also, deductions must be based on information received either through questioning or observation. Crimes cannot be solved solely by acts of God, coincidence, psychic powers or intuition, though these things may play a role in the denouement. Your sleuth’s flash of intuition must be triggered by something that the reader would also have a fair chance of connecting to the crime.

Furthermore, the villain cannot just give up and confess. As convenient as this would be, no. Really.

Here’s a tip. Think of writing your mystery novel as a friendly game played between you and the reader. You want to make it fun for the reader, so it can’t be too easy. But you also can’t cheat and withhold vital information. Readers do want to solve the mystery — they want that ah ha! I knew it all the time! moment — but they don’t want it to come too far ahead of your sleuth.

5 – Don’t focus on the puzzle and the twists at the expense of the emotional core of your story. Murder is a terrible, terrible crime and your story should reflect that. Don’t let your victim be a cipher. Whether the victim was someone everyone wanted dead or dearly beloved kindly Uncle Arnold, there should be ramifications to this death, there should be emotional impact. Murder is a serious business and your story should reflect that — even if you write funny cozy mysteries.

Here’s a tip. You should give as much thought to the characterization of your primary murder victim as you would any other cast member.

Thanks for reading – and don’t forget to comment below on what you’d like to see in upcoming posts for this column.





About the author

A distinct voice in gay fiction, and the bestselling author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure, and unapologetic man-on-man romance, JOSH LANYONhas been called “arguably the single most influential voice in m/m romance today.”

Today Josh’s work has been translated into nine languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first Male/Male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. The Adrien English series was awarded the All Time Favorite Couple by the Goodreads M/M Romance Group. Josh is an Eppie Awardwinner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist (twice for Gay Mystery), and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads All Time Favorite M/M Author Award.

Josh is married and lives in Southern California.

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  1. // Reply

    Thank you, Josh and Larissa, for making this happen! I’m not a writer, but I always find it fascinating to read Josh’s thoughts and advice on the subject. It’s so generous of Josh to share her knowledge about gay mystery and m/m mystery—she has such extensive knowledge and experience of it all. Plus… her posts are not only informative but also highly entertaining! 🙂

    And about the things I’d like to see in upcoming posts, well, let’s see… here’re a couple thoughts: How does a writer find the perfect balance with the mystery and the relationship twists and turns? How about the clues—how many are enough, but not too much? How does a writer master his/her clues—hiding them, making them vague enough? What about the rhythm of a mystery story? Is there such? Is it important? How does a writer make it work? Also, how do the rules of mystery stories differ in different sub-genres?

    So, do you already regret you asked…? 😀

    1. // Reply

      Not at all! Those are great topics. I’ll make sure to address them all in upcoming posts. 🙂

  2. // Reply

    Hi Josh. Thank you for being here and sharing your experience with us. I find this column very interesting and helpful – I have Man Oh Man, and “studied it” like it’s a school book. Looking forward to Killing It to be out.
    What I would like to see in the next posts is Dialogues. Probably it sounds silly to you, but I find very hard to think of good dialogues, especially in Mysteries, where lots of the things the characters say could be “used against them” ~ ok, sorry. I mean, I think dialogues are very important in Mysteries because they can reveal, or trigger, or explain, or deceive, or put the detective, and readers, on the right track. The way you write how your characters, any character, talk to each others is perfect; credible, with the right rhythm, at the right time, and pace. It makes the people in your stories real, alive, again, credibile. I find this very difficult to do. Maybe it has to do with the fact that English is not my native language, but I’m more inclined to think that it’s just me and my incompetence.
    Thank you again

    1. // Reply

      Oh! Dialog is one of my very favorite things, so absolutely we’ll talk about that. Thanks, Cris!

  3. // Reply

    I’d love to hear about reliable resources for writing believable police procedures etc. If we can’t just have our “boyfriend cop” solve our mystery for us we need another way to make the investigation believable. 🙂 And I agree that the bad guy should have some good qualities. All bad people aren’t all bad and all good people aren’t all good. I’m looking forward to this new blog series!

    1. // Reply

      What! You don’t think asking questions on Facebook is a good enough resource? 😀 Sure! We can list some tried and true resources. That’s a great one.

  4. // Reply

    I love your advice and can’t wait to read your next article! My question is: Is there a point where your story is too specialized? I like male/male romance, murder mysteries and political thrillers. I want to write a political thriller with a m/m romance where a mysterious murder occurs. Have I gone too far? Have I sub-genred myself out of the market?

  5. // Reply

    I’d be interested to hear some discussion on the finer points of close subgenres such as the difference between say, psychological thriller and suspense.

  6. // Reply

    All of your best mysteries include a relationship/romance with at least one sex scene. How do you decide where it belongs and how much to include?

  7. // Reply

    Hi Josh, so thrilled to see you blogging here. I was not familiar with this blog.
    A great post! (and looking forward to your next non-fiction book next year).
    A few other commenters seem to have asked you already, but I’d love for you to elaborate a bit more on the different syb-genres in mystery fiction, and the different expectations each sub-genre entails.
    I’d also love to know the best ways for a writer to do background research prior to writing a mystery novel set in certain historical time periods (I’m thinking for example of your own Snowball in Hell or Out of the Blue) so that historical details sound realistic and poignant without overburdening/upstaging the storyline and character development.
    Thank you! Paola

  8. // Reply

    I’d like to hear what are the differences between “normal” mystery novels, m/f (romance) mysteries, and m/m mysteries. Is there a difference? Could you take a m/f mystery and exchange the “f” with an “m”, and that’s all? Which is more difficult to write? How much romance makes a novel a m/f mystery? Is sex needed? Is HEA the difference? I’d like to see your thoughts on this topic. Thanks!

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