If you’re a reader of gay mysteries, you’ll inevitably come across the name Marshall Thornton. His Boystown detective series is among the more widely known and admired series in the genre. The series received two honorable mentions and was a runner-up in the Rainbow Awards, and has twice been a finalist for the Lambda Book Award – Gay Mystery. He’s currently re-releasing the series, with Boystown 7: Bloodlines set for release in March.
Marshall’s a prolific writer, with books that include Desert Run, My Favorite Uncle, and The Ghost Slept Over, to name a few. Somehow he found time to answer ‘6 Questions’! And here they are … Mark McNease/Editor
MM: I was looking at your bio. Having lived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, I’m wondering: why Long Beach? What got you there?
MT: Like many decisions in life, moving to Long Beach was a bit random. In my early thirties I decided to go back to college to finish my B.A. I applied at both Cal State Northridge and Cal State Long Beach and got into both. The deciding factor was that the Cal State Long Beach brochure said that you could see the ocean from campus—and, if you go to the top of the tallest building you can. Looking back, that’s a ridiculous reason to choose a college. But I’ve been here about twenty-two years. It’s really a great city.
MM: Desert Run. My Favorite Uncle. The Boystown Mysteries. You write a lot. Is that how you make your living? Twofer: how long does it take you to write a book?
MT: I’m making more and more of my income writing but it is not yet what you’d call a living. As to how long it takes to write a book, that varies. I first drafted My Favorite Uncle in 2005/6. I went back to it once and then finally finished it last year. If I add up the actual writing time it’s probably six months spread over nearly ten years. The Boystown series is easier. They take about six weeks to write and then another four to six weeks of editing spread over a year.
MM: Here’s my ‘writer’s routine’ question (there’s always one): do you have a routine? Same time every day, or not so structured?
MT: Generally, I try to write in the mornings. Writing has a component of the subconscious involved. It’s easier to access that early in the morning or late at night. I’ll sometimes try to puzzle through writing problems as I fall asleep, that way my mind works on it all night. And I often have an answer in the morning.
MM: I read that you wrote spec scripts for ten years and moved into fiction partly as a business decision. What’s the balance for you between writing for the love of it and writing for a readership – does one influence the other?
MT: I stopped writing spec scripts because a screenplay isn’t finished until it becomes a movie. Never seeing your work finished becomes very frustrating. I think one of the primary reasons to write is to create a response in others. To write simply for the joy of writing feels like you’re only doing it halfway. Of course, writing for a readership, building an audience, those do require some compromises. The key, I think, is to look for the place where what you want to write intersects with what the audience wants to read.
MM: Audiobooks are a large market but a new one for a lot of authors. Can you talk a bit about your experience with putting out audiobooks?
MT: My experience with audiobooks is strictly with ACX and Amazon company. It’s been mixed. When it’s good it’s very good but when it’s not good it’s very bad. I was able to get a great narrator for the first six Boystown books and for about a year they sold exceptionally well. This was primarily because ACX had a section on their front page for well-reviewed books and I was lucky enough to find my books listed in that section which resulted in a lot of sales. Unfortunately, ACX is publishing their own audiobooks and decided to remove the well-reviewed section and replace it with a section promoting their books. This has resulted in lessened visibility for my audiobooks and sales have been much slower. Hopefully, things will shift again somehow (they often do) and I’ll be able to continue putting the Boystown Mysteries on audio.
MM: I’ve been a lover of serials for decades and I’ve watched the central characters age as the books continue, in some cases 20 years or more. They’re getting old with me. Nick Nowak’s life unfolds in the 1980s. Will you keep writing them as he gets older in a sort of parallel, past-time universe, or is he particular to a particular window in time?
MT: In the first of the books, Nick is thirty-one and in the book I’m writing now (Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind) he’s thirty-five. I’m not entirely sure how many books I’ll write, nor how old he’ll be when I finish. I do, however, feel him aging. There isn’t a huge difference between thirty-one and thirty-five, but there is a difference. That passage of time, and the things that have happened to him, have made him a different person than he was when I began.