Since my novel Turning Idolater showed up on Amazon.com, I have had readers ask me whether it is more difficult to write a whodunit mystery or a run of the mill novel. My answer to that is easy. If the novel is run of the mill, it’s a cinch to write. I don’t believe I can write such novels. A mystery like Turning Idolater or the forthcoming The Jade Owl (which fits better into the fantasy genre) requires forethought that is more logical. I like to engage the reader by putting clues right under their noses, and then write around them so they miss them completely. (The clues, not their noses). This misdirection is fun for a writer and comes easily to me, but I must admit, to make it all work — to make it so that the reader is completely taken off guard, both mentally and emotionally at the end, takes sleight of hand. I love it when a reader tells me they re-read Bobby’s Trace to track the clues they missed on the first read.
Turning Idolater is an unusual mystery. The underlying glue is that nineteenth century classic, Moby Dick. The sea gushes through the work. The problem with Melville, however, is that his work is ponderous, while his themes transcend the page with simple truths. Therefore, I attempted (and hopefully succeeded) in extracting the themes, overlaying them with a Dickensian story set in modern times — a May-December gay romance between an inspired writer and a precocious Internet stripper. I have looked deep into my own experiences as a gay man and placed emphasis on the ripening relationship between these two men and the perils that befall them, much like the crew of the Pequod captained by an obsessive old thumper determined to destroy the swimming eye of God. Now, that would be a tall tale to write, except it is a murder mystery. The difficulty in any work is not its genre, but the development of the characters. In Turning Idolater’s case, we have four contrapuntal forces — a symphony of souls and, like any opus in sonata allegro form, these elements struggle to resolve on an engaging canvas — in this case, New York City and Provincetown on Cape Cod. The mystery of Turning Idolater is that it is a mystery at all. My characters stood by my hand as I sailed this vessel over rough seas — through shoal water and down sewers. While the characters try to resolve their issues, I am resolving the dichotomy of Melville and Dickens, of Pip and Ishmael, of Whales and sea gulls. Yet at the heart of it, lies not a tricky, surprising whodunit (that’s engaging), but the sweet story of a young man at sea with himself and his hopes. The resolution of his inner turmoil is inherent. He must strike the compromise, or in Melville’s words, turn idolater to find his way back to shore. Whodunit? I did. Guilty as charged.