Marshall Thornton is an award-winning novelist, playwright and screenwriter living in Long Beach, California. He is best known for the Boystown detective series, which received an honorable mention in the 2011 Rainbow Awards. Other novels include the erotic comedy The Perils of Praline, or the Amorous Adventures of a Southern Gentleman in Hollywood, Desert Run and Full Release. Marshall has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, where he received the Carl David Memorial Fellowship and was recognized in the Samuel Goldwyn Writing awards. He has also had plays produced in both Chicago and Los Angeles and stories published in The James White Review and Frontier Magazine. His work can be found at numerous outlets online including Amazon’s Kindle Store, Fictionwise, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.
Marshall was kind enough to agree to do an interview with The Qu’s Ben Kramer, host of FAG RAGS!
BK: Your stories are narrated by Nick Nowak, a gay detective in Chicago during the early 1980’s. Would you consider Nowak an extension of yourself in any way? Do you fetishize the noir style and the roles of detective and homme fatale?
MT: On a very basic level, I think writers can only write about themselves. That said, I don’t carry a concealed weapon. And am very unlikely to punch you if you piss me off. Nick is a much angrier person than I am – as well as being much more “popular” than I ever was. On the other hand, we are both very curious and stubborn people. Do I fetishize noir? Have you been poking around my closet? No, actually, I’m just a big fan of the genre. I read a lot of mysteries and really enjoy the noir period of film making.
BK: How do you go about doing your research? Have you spent time with detectives or people in the CPD? Did you experience gay Chicago in the 1980’s firsthand? How has the scene changed since then?
MT: I lived in Chicago from 1980 to 1987, so a lot of the stories are sparked by things I remember. I do however have to do a lot of research. I really love Chicago Gay History’s site. It’s full of videos made by Chicagoans who were there – often a lot more “there” than I was. Sukie de la Croix has written a lot of great historical blogs that I refer to, as well. Everything I know about the CPD is from research – which is partly why I tend to stay away from scenes with actual police work. I like to stick with Nick doing his own thing. Now, if you know any sexy Chicago cops you want to introduce me to please don’t be shy.
Since I began publishing the series I’ve been coming back to Chicago at least once a year.The city itself has changed a lot, at least physically. The gay scene? Obviously, there’s a more visible, organized presence on Halsted with the markers on the street. Thirty years ago a straight person could walk though Boystown and not really know where they were. You had to know what you were looking for to see it. I’ve also heard, though, that these days the gay community has spread out. The Boystown/New Town area used to be a lot cheaper than it is now and that’s driven a lot of gays to other parts of the city.
BK: When did you first start writing erotica? When did you first start writing noir detective fiction? What made you decide to combine the two? Have you considered tackling other genres under the pulp umbrella (westerns, adventure, etc)?
MT: I spent about ten years writing spec screenplays, including three years spent at UCLA film school getting an MFA, and I still love that form. However, a screenplay is not finished until it’s a movie and though I came close a couple times nothing got made. Which meant nothing got finished. I got very tired of never finishing anything so I decided to write fiction. In looking around for something to do, I found a call for gay Christmas erotica. I thought that was very unusual so I had to give it a try. The story got published and that’s how I discovered what’s called m/m romance.
Originally, I thought m/m was a wide open genre and so I decided to try a sexy mystery since I’d always loved the mystery genre. I’ve since learned that in the m/m romance genre the emphasis is on the romance and though there’s a heavy dose of sex and romance in the series I’m not what you’d call a romance writer. I find a lot of romance readers really like the books, but there are others who are very unhappy that I don’t do a happily-ever-after ending for each book.
I have tried a couple other genres. I have a suspense thriller set in Palm Springs during the seventies called Desert Run and I wrote an erotic satire titled The Perils of Praline, or the Adventures of a Southern Gentleman in Hollywood. I do want to write more comedy – but I probably won’t write a western.
BK: Who are your artistic influences? Did you read dime novels and other pulp fiction growing up?
MT: For the Boystown series I’d have to say that Joseph Hansen is a huge influence. His Dave Brandstetter mysteries are favorites of mine. I also really enjoy Sue Grafton, Michael Nava, and, of course, Raymond Chandler. I’ve always been a rather promiscuous reader. I’ve tried most writers at least once. Right before I switched from film to fiction, I did a rewrite on a script based on David Goodis’ Cassidy’s Girl. That experience got me interested in the pulp fiction era. I would say the explosion of m/m romance publishing and ebooks in general is a period very similar to the pulp fiction era, so it seems logical to emulate that as a writer.
BK: Some might say that some of your characters fall under gay stereotypes. Would you agree? Do you think it is justified, given the genre of your writing?
MT: All characters, and to a degree all people, are stereotypes. I think it’s a matter of looking for that unique detail which breaks or bends the stereotype and makes the character, or person, come alive. Certainly, though, in the mystery genre many of the characters you meet aren’t in the story long enough to actually accommodate that. I have a habit of bringing the characters back in later stories, hopefully that gives them a deeper characterization.