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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM JOSH LANYON
By coincidence, I spent the afternoon re-editing Snowball in Hell, a historical mystery I wrote a couple of years ago and recently resold to Carina Press as the first book in the new Doyle and Spain series. The story is actually set at Christmastime — Christmas 1943 — and when Erastes’ gentle reminder that I had a blog due arrived, I was scanning the scenes set at the holiday. After I unpeeled myself from the ceiling, I recognized a fortuitous coincidence.
Snowball in Hell is one of my personal favorites. It’s not just that I think I did some of my best writing there — although, on reflection, I sort of think I did — it’s more that I somehow managed to recreate the mood and setting of the time period so that even I can enjoy it. That’s rare, believe me. I can’t bear to read my own stuff. It makes me cringe. This story is the exception, and I think it’s because of the research that went into it. Today, glancing through the copyedits, it was almost like reading someone else’s work.
As I read, I was vividly reminded of that now long ago time when I wrote strictly for my own pleasure — when the idea of an audience rarely occurred and wouldn’t have swayed a single decision in my storytelling. Now days I earn my living as a writer and I can’t write simply and solely for my own pleasure (even if it does seem that way to those tired of the motifs and themes that obsess me).
I recall that researching this novella was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my writing career because I buried myself for nearly a week in the films and literature of the period. I always like research, but I have to admit the research for Snowball in Hell was particularly enjoyable. The idea of doing a whole series set in the 40s is heady stuff. I might never turn my DVD player off long enough to write a word.
Anyway, here’s a snippet from Snowball in Hell.
When they got back to the lodge, they had a drink in the hotel bar with the other guests—there were only a handful, and most of them had been coming to the lodge to celebrate Christmas for years. They were a pleasant enough bunch.
Matt excused himself after a while and commandeered Mrs. Hubbard’s office to make a few phone calls.
Nathan finished his drink, made small talk with some of the other guests, and then they all went to eat Christmas dinner served in the dining room. Several tables had been pushed together and covered with red tablecloths. There were candles in polished brass holders and a basket of holly with bright red berries for a centerpiece.
Matt joined them about the time they were all finishing up their soup. He sat across from Nathan in the wide square of tables. Nathan tried hard not to watch Matt too much, but when he wasn’t watching Matt he could feel Matt looking at him.
The food was as good as anything before the war—real turkey, stuffing with chestnuts, mashed potatoes and gravy. The yams, corn, green beans and pumpkin for the pie probably came from the hotel victory garden, but Nathan couldn’t imagine how they’d managed to come up with the rest of the feast. Hoarded ration books? Black market? He ate more in one go than he could remember consuming in years.
Listening to the others talking about the war, for the first time he was aware of being grateful that he was home and safe—that Matt had made it home safely. And the next time he looked across the linen and candles and met Matt’s eyes, he didn’t look away, he smiled—and Matt smiled back.
After Christmas dinner they managed to avoid being press-ganged into playing cards, and went upstairs where Matt gave him the bad news that there was still no sign of Pearl.
“There’s been one development though.”
Nathan was resting on the bed. He felt ready to explode from eating too much, but he raised an inquiring head.
“We searched Phil Arlen’s apartment and found a wad of five-hundred dollar bills in Claire Arlen’s purse.”
Nathan dropped his head back on the pillow. He didn’t say what he was thinking—that he thought it was a hell of thing the cops were searching women’s purses, that none of them had a right to privacy these days.
“She says she doesn’t know how the money got there,” Matt added.
“Does the money match the ransom money serial numbers?”
“They’re checking on that now.” And then Matt strolled over to the bed, sat down and stretched out beside Nathan. He yawned widely. “Since we’re stuck…”
Nathan shook his head, rose, and went to prop a chair beneath the room door.
Matt was already sleeping by the time he got back to the bed.
They napped for a couple of long, peaceful hours, and when they woke they had turkey sandwiches and drinks in the bar with the other guests. They made small talk, sang a few carols when everyone had finally had enough to drink, and then at last it was late enough to retire upstairs, lock the door and turn down the lights. They crawled in between the sheets as though they had been cuddling up together every night for years. For a time they just lay there, breathing quietly, acquainting themselves.
Matt’s fingertips brushed the scars on Nathan’s side where the bullets had hit him, and Nathan’s skin twitched a little. It was Matt’s gentleness that he felt in his nerves and bones and blood, although it was nice to be touched, caressed.
“How the hell did you survive this?”
“Just unlucky, I guess.”
He was kidding—he thought he was—but Matt raised his head. Nathan couldn’t read his expression in the darkness, but he heard his tone. “There are about a hundred thousand guys who’d have given anything to trade places with you.”
Nathan grimaced. “I know.”
But Matt couldn’t let it go. “You know how rare it is to survive getting hit by machine-gun fire?”
“Seems to me like that kind of—”
“I know,” Nathan said again, and this time he couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice.
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. www.joshlanyon.com
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