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My Interview with Joseph De Marco


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Every author I’ve interviewed has had more than their abundance of qualities that make them amazing. Some stand out above others based on their works, some because of their ability to capture what their reader wants. It’s the authors that overcome diversity that shine even above those. I’d like to introduce a new friend of mine to you all. Joseph de Marco is an amazing writer and amazing individual. He writes not only about real life people, but is a master of fiction as well. His works include Murder on Camac and he is also the editor of the E-magazine Mysterical-E. What makes him amazing? I posed the toughest questions I could think of to him and he had no problems knocking them out of the park. Read on and I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’m sure you’ve been asked the question, “What author influenced you the most?” a billion and a half times. Let me ask you this instead, WHO (and I mean anybody in your life) influenced your work the most?

Hmmm, great question. I wouldn’t say there’s only one WHO or even one WHAT but there are a lot of things which influence my work.

There have always been people in my life who are an inspiration for one reason or another. But my best friend, who believes in me totally, is probably the biggest influence on me. (And not just because he believes in me. He’s an inspiration in a lot of ways.) No one should minimize the power of someone who believes in them. My best friend sits on one shoulder and whispers encouragement, inspires me to keep going, yells at me, cajoles me, spurs me on and lifts me up.

There are other influences that almost always find their way into my work: my Italian background (even when my characters aren’t Italian), my religious background and training, my sexual orientation, my work in the gay movement, my many and varied interests, my love of history, and more. All of these things are an influence. They are perched all together on my other shoulder and a very rowdy crowd they make, trying to get themselves into my work one way or another.

I would also have to say that a large influence or inspiration or motivator is that anonymous gay kid sitting out there, as I once was, looking for something to read that he can relate to and find himself in. That young gay reader is looking for a character who feels the same way about the world, who sees things through a similar lens. He’s looking for a world which will accept him and in which he will be able to live his life the way that’s most natural, comfortable, and fulfilling for him. There are still lonely and isolated gay kids across the world who would love to see characters like themselves on the page. That thought is always with me in some way when I write.

You have a lot of experience as a professional writer, what genre do you enjoy most? Is it the mysteries, or the real life interviews you wrote about, or the erotic short stories?

It’s fiction that I love the most. I love mysteries, of course, but I also love science fiction, fantasy, and other types of speculative fiction. Time travel and werewolves and vampires are all things I enjoy reading about and writing about. Cross genre stuff is a favorite of mine. So, I’m simultaneously working on the second Marco Fontana mystery and a cross genre work that will involve mystery, and some other things are on the back burners.

It’s hard to say which genre I enjoy most because as a reader, I love it all. As a writer I have a long, long, long list of ideas and concepts that I’m slowly working through.

It’s good to mix it up sometimes because it gives you break from what you usually do and it also opens up your work to a different set of readers and potential fans.

Of course, I love interviewing. I love people and learning about them and listening to them. I want to know about their lives and their work, their ups and downs, how they think and how they feel and express themselves. So doing interviews has always been something that came naturally. I also found I was good at using the material I gathered in interviews to create profiles of the people kind enough to let me into their lives for a while.

I have also written plays and had some minor successes there (including a way off-Broadway production). That was lots of fun and I still love the whole theater world. I have several plays that I’d either like to turn into books or try and get produced.

I don’t really write erotica, meaning out and out sexually based writing. There are a couple of my stories in anthologies that were supposedly slightly erotic. You’d have to stretch to find any real sex in those stories because there isn’t any. Strong language, sure. But sexual content: not much, if any. Erotica, in my opinion, is not something that portrays out and out sex. It’s the art of suggestion and shadows and subtlety. So there’s a sharp line between erotica and what might be called porn. I don’t write porn. I find it boring and repetitive. Erotica is several cuts above porn. But I don’t do erotica either. It’s just not what I want to do.

Too many people look down upon gay literature because they think it’s all about sex and porn and erotic situations – but it’s not and that’s one reason I don’t write it.

Gay fiction, and erotic fiction are two of the fastest growing genres in the publishing industry. I would imagine that being gay gives you a distinct advantage in writing realistic fiction. This is kind of an off the wall question, but who do you think writes better, straight people writing gay fiction, or gay people writing straight fiction?

This is a loaded question. It’s like walking a minefield wearing magnetic shoes. But I’ll give it a go.

I think that if a writer applies himself/herself and really “gets into the character” then a good writer can write almost any character and do it well.

No one can actually walk in another’s skin. No one can know the things that others suffer or really understand the things that bring others joy. But you can always dip into your own life and find something that resonates with what you’re writing about and may help you create a character and a situation with a verisimilitude which will be convincing to readers.

So, can a straight person write a gay person and do it well? Can a gay person write a gay person better? This is a complicated question.

A straight person, if he or she does their homework, can probably do a passable job of writing gay characters. I haven’t seen too much of it but it’s there. What you mostly get is stereotypes. Sometimes a writer can do it. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain comes to mind. She got much of it right. Of course, the movie was made with even more input so they got it even “righter” so to speak. But I have also seen some really abysmal, stereotype-ridden attempts at writing gay characters. That said, some people are stereotypical and if you need a stereotype in your work, that’s okay. But if every character is a stereotype, then it’s bad writing, or something worse.

In my book Murder on Camac, and in subsequent books in the series, gay is a part of life that most people accept without question. My detective, Marco Fontana, is a gay man. Not a stereotypical one. Being gay in this series, though central to Marco’s life and work, is just one aspect of his life. A very important aspect, a central aspect, of course. It colors the way he thinks and acts. He falls in love with men, men fall in love with him. He operates in the gay world and the gay world is an integral part of him. But he’s equally comfortable in the straight world and deals with straight people all the time. After all, like most gay people, Marco grew up in a straight family, so being uncomfortable with heterosexuals was not an option.

That brings up a second point in answer to the question: Can gay people do a good job of writing straight characters?

The answer may raise a few eyebrows or even a few hackles (if you’re lucky enough to have them). But it’s my opinion that gay people can do a great job of creating straight characters. Why? Because we get to watch heterosexuals all the time. For one thing they are about 85% of the population. So, we constantly find ourselves observing, listening to, and interacting with straight people. Gay people, even now that we are more visible and almost fully equal (still not fully equal even in the 21st Century), even with all that, we are still largely invisible to the larger heterosexual community. Many hardly ever know they are sitting next to or speaking with a gay person, unless that person is a flamboyant stereotype or is out, open, and honest and tells you upfront that they belong to the homosexual tribe.

So, this still semi-hidden existence gives us the great ability to observe and write about what we have seen. Those who “gay watch” may only ever see stereotypes and maybe they will only ever write about them as stereotypes.

I’ve asked every author I’ve interviewed so far this question. From the time you started writing, to the time when you held your first completed published novel in your hand, what part or journey did you find to be the most difficult?

It’s probably the part I still find difficult: having confidence in myself and my work. Had I had more confidence earlier, four novels I have sitting in my drawers (now there’s an image!) would all be published. (They’ll be going out for consideration soon.)

Self-confidence is a commodity that I would probably pay a lot of money for if it were bottled and sold.

Confidence pulls you ahead of the pack. Belief in yourself is paramount.

For me, at least, no matter how many times things have come along to boost that sense of confidence, it remains a delicate and elusive thing.

In your fictional works, do particular people play a part in influencing your character personalities, are they completely fictional even in their responses, or are they different facets of your own personality.

It’s a bit of both, I think. But more imagination and creation than anything else. All writers are influenced by the world around them, of course.

Though I sometimes influence the personalities of my characters (with my own personality), I don’t always realize I’m doing it. Perhaps all writers, with all their characters, are opening a window onto themselves for their readers.

My detective is an interesting example:

Marco Fontana is a tall, good-looking man, who has a very exciting life and does things I would love to do but don’t. And yet, people tell me they think I am Marco, but it’s certainly not true. Maybe there are aspects of his personality that are like mine, but he’s a creation out of the mists. He’s someone bigger than life, more adventurous, tougher, and more devastatingly attractive than his creator. He might be my alter ego, but he’s not me and I’m not him.

Other characters in the worlds I write about are creations with their own personalities, behaviors, and lives.

Have you ever felt like getting published, or having your work promoted, was more difficult not only because you are gay, but also because both your fictional and non fictional works deal with homosexuality?

I fear giving an answer to this question because it might sound whiny or complaining. I don’t want to paint gay writers and gay literature as the newest victim on the block (though we are certainly among the oldest and longest suffering victims in the sweep of history). So, if I talk about suffering and prejudice, it’s not whining, it’s reality. I’m not complaining as much as I am painting a picture for others who may not know what it is like to be gay, to write gay material, to want to live as a free, equal person, to be treated with respect and given equal access. And to have your work honestly evaluated for what it is.

Being gay makes a lot of things in life more difficult. From the moment you realize you are gay, you are set upon a path and take a journey that not many others are privileged to embark upon. I say privileged because, though it is difficult, if you get through it in one piece you are stronger and shine brighter than other people.

It’s not being gay that makes life difficult, it’s the way societies and individuals react to the idea and the reality of homosexuality and the ways in which they “deal” with it. Can you imagine having your rights put on the ballot for others to vote them up or down? Happens to gay people all the time. (I write this on the day of a victory in California in the battle for same sex marriage. There’s still a long way to go.)

I knew about my gayness since I was a small child. I think many people do. I never did anything to change myself though I never fully admitted things to myself until I entered my twenties.

From then on, I knew that my writing would center around gay themes and subjects. Sure there’s an occasional foray into heterosexual territory. But it’s part of my mission as a writer to “write gay” and that’s what I do. I think one has to be true to oneself.

Has that made it difficult in the publishing world? Of course.

Does it deter me? Of course not!

It’s regrettable that some people will never pick up a gay book simply because it’s a gay book. On the other hand, we have to realize that we are writing for a niche market and that’s the way it is. If a work crosses over into the mainstream, great. But you’ve got to write what you’ve got to write.

That’s what satisfies me in my work: Doing what it is I want to do.

If you had to name something about being a published author that made you smile every time you thought about it or accomplished it, what would it be?

Lots of things, I suppose. The dazzling smile of my best friend when he saw the book for the first time. That was worth all the work. The way my mother picked up the book and when she saw it was almost 400 pages long, said something to the effect of “This is a real book!” The unexpected e-mail I get from fans. And more. Lots more.

Now think of the worst thing about being a published author, not including the fiscal aspects, what would it be?

The worst thing? That’s difficult. I suppose it’s the worry that you won’t please your readers. But it’s also the people in my life who are no longer alive to see my work and share the joy with me, my late partner, my father, a favorite aunt, some close friends. (Though I do truly believe they share that joy and see my work.)

Most authors write either fiction or nonfiction, and yet you do both. Do you find one more difficult to write than the other? Which is your favorite?

I think fiction is my favorite because I can create a world that I want to create and populate it with characters who I’d like to get to know. I can remake the world around me so that it’s better than it is. The ability to imagine and create is exciting and the possibilities are limitless. So, yes, fiction is definitely something that gives me great pleasure.

On the other hand, in the nonfiction arena, things are what they are. There’s something pleasant about the limitations you work within when you do a nonfiction piece or book. You must work with what you have. You can’t be faulted because the people you interviewed lacked some quality or other. They are who they are. Whereas a fictional character is judged by other standards.

In doing nonfiction, you can certainly be taken to task if you fudge or misrepresent or do a shoddy job of whatever it is you’re writing about. But shoddy work is shoddy work whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. None of it is a good thing.

Well all right, I almost like both equally! For all the varying elements that each field comes with. For the different material you have to work with and the way you work with it. For the differing pleasure you get from the product you produce.

But fiction is my favorite favorite! It’s more me and gives me more room to exercise and feel free.

If you could offer one bit of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Stick with it and the rewards, whatever they may be, will be wonderfully worth it.


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  1. August 7, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Wow. What a great and insightful interview. I agree with so many things written here, and truly admire your courage and determination. Two comments you made struck me and both made me sad. The first: can you imagine having your rights put on the ballot for others to vote. No, I cannot imagine. I am just glad people are willing to fight for their rights (like women who fought for the right to vote many years ago – where would we be without their courage and strength?). I’m a female and an immigrant (legal, I might add) and I’ve been subjected to prejudice in my time. You’re right – it makes you stronger. Your fight makes the path easier for future generations. Your second comment was about loved ones no longer alive to see your work. I lost my father a year before my book was picked up by Echelon Press. While he was ill, I told him my goal was to get it published and he warned me how hard it would be. He’d always pushed me hard to do my best so I was up for the challenge. I was making him a promise (and to myself because I knew if he didn’t get better, I wanted to dedicate it to him). I do believe they know, and they are proud of our accomplishments.

  2. August 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    What a wonderful interview! I was wondering what your plans are for the future, is there a work in progress, or do you have ideas for other stories you’d love to write?

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