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    It’s All a Mystery to Me

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele Karlsberg: Ann Aptaker, author of Flesh and Gold, book four in the Cantor Gold Crime Series, is featured in this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times. I asked Ann what she would like to see more/less of in the mystery genre. I also asked whether her writing process is set up with an outline or is organic. I additionally asked: If you were forced to live the rest of your life as one of your characters, who would it be? And: What was the last book that you read and loved?

    Ann Aptaker: There’s something for every taste in the general crime and mystery genre, but in the LGBTQI niche, particularly in Lesbian crime and mystery fiction, I’d like to see grittier stories, more moral conundrums, and less emphasis on “romantic mysteries” or “romantic thrillers.” Sure, my characters sometimes fall in love, but the Happily Ever After device, or the crime solver having a loving spouse, have never been intrinsic to the crime genre. Good crime fiction, especially the non-HEA noir variety, where right and wrong blur in a dark world of danger-filled lives—and yes, dangerous loves—is emotionally sexier. Much more interesting to write.

    My process is organic but with a dollop of outline, which actually comes later. I start with a character’s voice in my head. I write that voice. The story grows from there, and when it really starts to cook, the characters write the story themselves. They write it through the emotions that define them, pushing them to do what they must do, and say what they must say.

    But since crime and mystery fiction must tie up loose ends and resolve plot points (so-called “literary” fiction can meander more freely; but don’t get me started on the definition of “literary” fiction and its sometimes-snobbish attitude toward genre fiction), somewhere along the line, usually about halfway or two-thirds through the manuscript, I jot down what’s happened thus far: which character has done what. This list or haphazard chart then gets lost among the other stuff on my desk, never to be seen again until post-book cleanup, but the act of making the list clarifies my thinking.

    Writing is living alternate lives in a made-up world. If I had to live the life of one of my characters, oh yeah, it would be Cantor Gold. Her outlaw life is much more courageous than mine—much freer, much sexier, much sweeter. Sure, she risks her life and her heart’s broken. But hey, she’s gotta pay the price for her defiant freedom.

    For me, writing grows from a love of reading. But picking one favorite recently read book is impossible. Instead, here are my three most influential and re-read books: Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. Three very different books with three very different voices, but related at their emotional core. To me, they are stories of desperate or thwarted aspiration. Heathcliff and Gatsby break my heart. Cain’s Walter is doomed by his own moral failure. And Cain’s mastery of language? I can but aspire. He ended Double Indemnity with just two words. Two perfect words.

    By the way, even though I write crime of the darker variety, I can’t watch horror movies. They terrify me!

    Lambda Literary and Goldie Award winner Ann Aptaker’s favorite themes are dangerous women and the history of her beloved City of New York. In addition to writing crime fiction, Ann teaches art and art history at the New York Institute of Technology. For more information: http://www.annaptaker.com/

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQI community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 31 years of successful book campaigns.