July 29, 2006

A Portrait of Dorien Grey

Being serious for a change, today’s blog is an interview with Dorien Grey, the pen name of one of the very best, most solid mystery authors I’ve ever come across. We’ve been friends for a long time now and I want to introduce him to those of you who may not have heard about him and read his books. You’ve been missing a great read if you haven’t. To those of you who do know him, perhaps you’ll get to know him a little better today.

Dorien’s website is at http://www.doriengrey.net

Dorien, tell us a little about your background in the writing field.

I was, of course, a prodigy. My first literary effort, at the age of between 4 and 5, and dictated to my private secretary (my mom) was a gripping ode to cowboys, the last line of which was “And the cowboys yelled ‘Whoopee’ and everything else.” And from that auspicious beginning, I’ve never turned back.

I spent most of my professional life as a book and magazine editor in Chicago and Los Angeles, and though I’d been writing in one form or another all my life, didn’t publish my first novel until 2001.

To date, I have eleven books in publication with a twelfth due out shortly, one making the rounds, and another in the computer.

I didn’t realize, although I should have because I started reading your books in 2003, that your first book was only published five years ago. That’s phenomenal, considering how good the series started out. Tell our readers today about your Dick Hardesty series, all of which I’ve read and loved. What’s going on with it?

Ah, the Dick Hardesty series. After ten books and an increasingly strained relationship with my publisher, who does not believe in the concept of monogamy for gay men, I was informed that I was being “untrue” to “real gay men,” thereby implying, obviously, that I could not possibly be a gay man, and that they therefore would publish no more of the series, despite a solid and growing reader base and the fact that four of the ten books were finalists for a Lambda Literary award.

So we parted ways amicably, and I am forever in GLB’s debt for giving me a start when the bigger houses would not give me the time of day.

I was subsequently told numerous times that for a publisher to pick up the continuation of a series begun by another publisher simply is not done–which, if true, would mean the series would end with book #10, The Paper Mirror—itself a Lambda Award finalist.

But I am far too fond of Dick, Jonathan, and the gang to let them go quietly into that good night. Despite the odds, I am writing Book #11 of the series and will do my best to find a publisher for it.

So am I. I love them all and I’d really hate to see that series end. What are you working on now ?

I currently have a new, non-Dick Hardesty mystery making the publisher rounds and hope to find a home for it before long. It’s a parapsychological mystery I hope my readers will enjoy. I also am awaiting the release of the print version of my western romance adventure/mystery, Calico, which has been considerably rewritten from its e-book version, still also available.

Your blog is about your experiences in the Navy. Tell us about it, what years it covers, and what you hope to accomplish with it.

Since I was very, very young I have been obsessed with the passage of time and with the knowledge that there will come a day, fight it though I may, when I will no longer be here. Writing is my attempt, if not for immortality, at least to leave a bit of myself behind for as long as my words exist somewhere. When I entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program after my sophomore year in college (to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, which was set to expire the following January), I decided to leave a written record of the experience via letters home to my parents. The end result is my blog, A World Ago. The url to my blog is http://www.doriengrey.blogspot.com

I entered service in August of 1954 and was, thanks to a few built-in loopholes in the system, honorably discharged in August of 1956. I have, I think, close to if not well over 200 letters which are, in effect, a trip through time. Every single word of every letter was put down, one after the other, on a then-blank piece of paper, and I hope the reader gets that feeling as he/she reads them.

These aren’t, as I’ve said, your average ‘I am fine. How are you?’ letters. They chronicle my time as a Naval Aviation Cadet with all the triumphs and trials attendant thereto, follow the details which led to my dismissal from the program, and progress through my being put aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga for an eight month tour of the Mediterranean at the height of the cold war. The reader is right there with me through it all, including my adventures in Naples, Rome, Paris, Cannes, Nice, Athens, Barcelona, Sicily, Rhodes, Istanbul, and the once-beautiful Beirut, which was known at the time as the Paris of the Middle East. Letters from Beirut detailing my visits with an American family also mention the even-then fermenting troubles between Israel and Palestine.

And while I hated the Navy while I was in it, I later realized it was a fascinating time filled with unforgettable experiences for which I shall always be grateful. I hope those who follow along (I add a new letter to the blog every day…to start at the beginning, you must go back through the archives to the first letter and then move forward) will share some of the same feelings.

The purpose of A World Ago is twofold: I wanted to share my adventures with others and hope that, by getting to know me through my long-ago letters, those who follow the blog will be more inclined to read my books if they’ve not already done so.

I hope so! When you were in the Navy, did the powers that be know you were gay?

Oh, dear Lord, no! Had they known I was gay, or had I been accused of it, I would have been thrown out instantly, either with a “Dishonorable” or “Undesirable” discharge. Few people have any real knowledge of the number of decent, loyal, honorable men and women thrown out of the various services for the unforgivable “crime” of being gay. Such untenable bigotry shames our nation.

You mentioned to me the other day that when you were in the Navy they found out about one of your buddies. What year was that, and what happened to him?

I mention it in one of the letters (actually, I mention two incidents, at different times) which will be coming up when the letters reach into 1956 (we’re in May of 1955 at the moment) but do not go into details which, briefly, were these:

I worked in the commissary office of the Ticonderoga. One of our bakers was a sweet but not overly bright kid named North, who for some reason always reminded me of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. One morning, while we were in the middle of the Mediterranean, North did not show up for work. He had simply disappeared without a trace. No one ever knew what had happened to him until some time later when we pulled into Naples. Suddenly, there was North, gathering his belongings. I discovered that the day he disappeared, the ship’s Personnel Officer, a prissy little nelly queen who I could have spotted as being gay halfway across the hangar deck…but he wore a wedding ring and therefore was above suspicion…called North to the Personnel Office and told him that “a homosexual” had been discovered in Norfolk and had given North’s name as someone with whom he had sex. “Now, we don’t want to do anything against you,” he assured North, “but if you’ll just sign this paper, we’ll have evidence against him.”

Dear, sweet, naive North signed the paper and he was flown off the ship in the middle of the night, lest he contaminate the crew.

Does this still happen in the service today?

Tragically and astoundingly, yes. Every day. Last year over 700 men and women, in this day of “don’t ask, don’t tell” were driven out of the military. There is no end.

How old were you when you realized you were gay? Did you fight it, or accept it from the beginning? How difficult was it for you, or was it difficult, given the mood of the country at that time?

Though I did not know the words or what they meant, I knew who and what I was by the time I was five years old. (There are gay children, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.) And never, for one single instant of my life, have I ever doubted who or what I was or that I had every right to be who and what I am. It did and does not matter what the world thought or what the world thinks. I am me, and no one can take that away.

How old were you when you finally came out to your family and friends? Did any of them give you a bad time about it, or were they all pretty cool?

I never had to come out to my friends, many of whom—especially from college on—were gay themselves. Of those who weren’t gay, they knew without being told. And anyone who might have disapproved were never friends to begin with.

I was blessed to have incredibly wonderful parents. They were not saints, but flawed human beings like everyone else, yet they loved me unconditionally from the moment I was born until the moment they died. Though they knew full well I was gay almost as long as I did, we never discussed it openly until I was in my early 30s, after breaking up with a long-time partner (with whom I am still friends). My entire family…cousins, aunts and uncles…have always accepted me totally, and always welcomed my partners into their homes and their own families as though we were any other couple, and therefore I have been spared much of the heartache and rejection so many gays and lesbians have to endure from those people they love and who are supposed to love them.

You were lucky to have parents like that. I love that your mother sat and played word games with you! How has being gay affected your life, overall?

That is a very difficult question to answer. Being gay is as much a part of me as having brown eyes. It simply is, and it has fundamentally shaped everything I do, everything I write, and everything I am. Am I “proud” to be gay? Are you “proud” to have brown (or blue or green) eyes?

Do you feel there’s still, today (or again, today) a backlash against gay literature?

Unfortunately, yes. Part of it is totally understandable. Gay literature tends to deal with an entire social spectrum that is unfamiliar to most people. It is very similar to the reaction to “black” literature, or “hispanic” literature, or the literature of any minority. And then, of course, there are those who dare to presume to speak for God, and who are themselves unspeakable.

But though I write of gay characters in gay surroundings, what I try very hard to do is to show the reader willing to take a chance with one of my books that these are human characters in human surroundings, and that those things which unite us are far more common and infinitely more important than those things which divide us. To let fear or ignorance or baseless, passed-down bigotries prevent someone from recognizing these similarities is truly sad.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I love so much about your books. It’s clear we’re more alike than some think and your books show that. Have you ever thought about writing a non-gay themed fiction novel?

Frankly, no. There are more than enough heterosexuals out there far better qualified to do so than I. I suppose I could write a non-gay-themed fiction novel if I wanted to…but why would I want to? (“But you could make so much more money writing for the mainstream.” Well, I do write for the mainstream—that’s my whole point. I love money, but I always take Polonius’ advice to Laertes to heart: “To thine own self be true…”)

What’s your all-time favorite book (from other authors)? Did it influence you to become a writer?

The one book that always comes to mind as having had the strongest influence on my writing is not, as I probably should say it was, one of the great classics of literature. It was a simple, hilarious little book by Robert Lewis Taylor written in the late 1940s, called Adrift in a Boneyard. I have read it more than a dozen times, I’m sure, and have loved its humor and its style every single time.

I can understand that. When I was twelve I read John O’Hara’s Come Fill the Cup, and even then I loved his clean, spare style and I’m sure it influenced my own writing. So Dorien, what’s your all-time favorite movie?

It would be impossible to name only one. Bambi, E.T., Schindler’s List, Close Encounters of the Third Kind…any movie that grabs you by the heart and leaves you with hope.

Your all-time favorite song?

Kate Smith singing God Bless America, perhaps? Anything by Tchaikovsky or the great romantic composers. Full, rich orchestrals that again pick you up and raises you above everyday life for a moment. Have I mentioned that I am one of the last of the die-hard romantics?

Your blog is fascinating, rich in world history. What do you think was the most important lesson you learned while serving our country and do you think the general mood of our men and women in the service today is the same?

That’s very kind of you to say. The most important thing I learned while in the service was that we can be a far better people than we are. I think altruism and patriotism and a belief in goodness and justice are far more than platitudes, but that they are treated far too often as though that’s all they were. Men and women today are dying to protect what they believe in their hearts to be right and good. That they are sent to die in hopeless money-driven wars by petty little men who do not have the balls to change places with them and take up arms themselves is an unfathomable tragedy.

Do you think the general mood of the country about the world situation we’re in is the same as when you were a young man?

It was, truly, a very different world. It was far easier to say “this is right” and “this is wrong.” The lines between “good” and “bad” were far more distinct. Today’s world has become a kaleidoscope of shades of grey. And there are far too many of us, with more every second. One maniac, one serial killer, one terrorist in a hundred people was bad enough in a world of 3 billion people. But in a world of 6 billion, which we are approaching today….

Your blog and your books are brilliantly written, with warm, believable characters and situations. I’ve never read one of your books where I came across anything that made me think, “Oh, come on, how far-fetched is THAT,” as I do sometimes with other authors’ books. Yours are totally reasonable and fun to read. Are your books a composite of people and situations you’ve known, or do you invent most of them?

Again, thank you! Of course my books are composites of people and places I’ve known (or read of, or imagined) and situations I’ve experienced in reality or in dreams. But most important of all, I truly feel that, to me, the people in my books, no matter where they came from or upon whom they might be based, are real. They truly exist for me in some alternate universe that exists between the lines and behind the pages of every book. And if I can convince a reader to feel the same way, I’ve accomplished something.

When did you realize you were destined to be a writer? What happened to punch that home?

I think one of the reasons I write…one of the reasons I have always written…is because I do not like reality. It is far too cruel and restrictive and capricious. After my cowboy poem, I went on, in third grade, to write a sporadic “Newspaper”… The Bugville News, in pencil, which I would pin to the front door of the Harry Morris School in Rockford, Illinois. In a way, I’m still writing it.

Another common bond! My very first gig, other than the love stories I wrote for my friends, was as a reporter on my junior high newspaper. Strangely enough, I did the gossip column. I’m not sure my mother even knew about it, but how did your family feel about you becoming a writer?

My mother was responsible for urging me to express my imagination; to make up stories; to read as many books as I could get my hands on. We would play “Dictionary”, wherein one of us would open the dictionary to a page at random, close our eyes, and point to a word. Whoever could define that word won. How can one possibly express how profound an influence one’s parents have? My father often disagreed with things I did, choices I made, etc. But never for one instant did I doubt that he loved me with all his heart, as did my mother.

What do you think is the biggest problem authors face today?

The primary one is, as it always has been, endemic: finding a publisher. Regrettably, people just don’t read as much as they once did, so there are fewer readers out there and fewer publishers willing to take risks. The higher cost of books has a negative impact on readership, as well.

What do you want your tombstone to say—although no time soon, I hope.

The one I’d really like has already been taken: “As you are now, so once were we: as we are now, so shall you be.” So I have a couple alternatives: “He tried.” or maybe “Come sit and talk to me.”

Are you EVER going to write a book that revolves around Tondelaya O’Toole, one of the most loveable, colorful characters I’ve ever read about in any book? I LOVE him!

I’m so glad you like “T/T”…I do too. He’s a tremendously strong character. But I think building an entire book around him would be like serving a meal with too much salt. Still, I won’t rule anything out.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to your readers, or prospective readers, or young authors just starting out?

To those who have read some or all of my books, I’d like to say thank you for your support, and hope we can enjoy each other’s company for many books to come. I am nothing without you.

To prospective readers, I offer a chance to explore a non-threatening world with which you might not yet be familiar, but which is populated with real people you can care for and around whom you can feel at home.

And for not yet published authors, one simple word of advice: it’s not how many times you’re knocked down that matters…it’s how many times you get up.

Thank you, Hotclue/Beth.

You’re so welcome, my friend. Come back and chat any time.

Love and smoochies to y’all on this blistering hot Saturday American morning. I hope it cools off wherever you are today. Count Babbalallapaloozo asked me if I’d like to fly to Minnesota with him today, erroneously thinking it might be cooler there. I told him the last time I pulled that shot it was hotter there than it was here. I’m staying in today with Beth, thankyouverymuch, and helping her with revisions. God knows she needs all the help she can get, but come back soon, ya hear me? You never know what you’re going to find me up to, here on Hotclue Live!

Hotclue Herself

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  1. I find it curious that Dorien claims his publisher didn’t want future books because his characters are monogomous and that just isn’t done in gay books. I read a great deal of gay mystery fiction and MOST of the books I read feature a gay protag who is in a single partner relationship – both of Mark Richard Zubro’s series, Lev Raphael’s Nick Hoffman series, Michael Nava’s Henry Rios series featured him in two monogamous relationships, even Greg Herren’s Scotty books have him ‘settling’ down with one man. My own newly started series has a solidly monogamous relationship that I assure you will continue through the series, and the publisher (Alyson) knew this going in. So I’m puzzled who his publisher is thinking about when he makes a statement like that? Does he even know the field at all?


  2. Interesting points, Pat.

    GLB’s publisher, Bill Warner, has spent his life fighting for gay rights, and for that we all owe him a debt of gratitude. But he has his own intractable ideas of exactly what it is to be a “real” gay man. I am not, in his opinion, one of them. As a publisher, he cannot make a writer think as he does, but he can refuse to publish books which do not agree with his vision. Thus the refusal to publish any more Dick Hardesty mysteries under the GLB banner. I do hope to find a home for Book #11 of the series on which I am now working.


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