Dear readers, I have some troubling news. I was alerted to the possible presence of cowboy menages in Partners in Crime, the new double novella by authors Josh Lanyon and Jordan Castillo Price. What alerted me? I give you exhibit A, below, the Josh Lanyon image. As they say, a picture tells a 1000 words.
Needless to say, I dropped everything to look into the situation. I questioned these two devious authors in separate interrogation rooms.
Transcript from Room #1: Author Josh Lanyon
Topic: Lovers and Other Strangers, Lanyon's novella in the Partners in Crime anthology
Suspect profile: This cool customer pens the highly acclaimed, award-winning Adrien English mystery novels. He has also written numerous highly regarded crime novellas and novels, as well as Man, Oh Man!: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Cash.
Miss Doreen: Josh Lanyon, thanks for agreeing to come down to answer these questions. Now, I want to read you something, and you tell me if it sounds familiar:
Recovering from a near fatal accident, artist Finn Barret returns to Seal Island in Maine to rest and recuperate. But Seal Island is haunted with memories, some sweet, some sad; three years ago Finn found his lover in the arms of Fitch, Finn's twin brother. Since that day, Finn has seen neither Conlan nor Fitch. In fact, no one has seen Fitch.Miss Doreen: Does that sound familiar?
What happened to him? Did Fitch run away, as everyone believes? Or did he meet a more sinister fate?
Josh: It does, yes. It’s from Lovers and Other Strangers, my novella in the Partners in Crime anthology I’m doing with Jordan Castillo Price. It just came out la --
Miss Doreen: Could you please tell us what happened to Fitch?
Josh: Well…no. I mean, it’s a mystery. You have to read the book to find out.
Miss Doreen: Ah, yes, we have to read the book. That’s a little convenient, don’t you think?Josh: * guilty silence *
Miss Doreen: Moving on: Josh, as you know, Carolyn is an embarrassingly avid fan of yours. You’ve done some fine work, and by that I mean in pulling the wool over her eyes. Are you happy now? Do you think you can do the same to me?
Josh: Is she? I mean --
Miss Doreen: Shhh! I’ll do the talking here. When Carolyn heard I’d be interviewing you and Jordan, she got quite excited, wanting to help me choose excerpts to highlight. She liked the one below as a demonstration of the “keen human observation” you bring to your work, and noted that, though it’s not humorous as in your Adrien English mysteries, it’s every bit as satisfying yada yada.
Hiram pulled up in front of the long front porch. Lights shone welcomingly from several downstairs windows.Miss Doreen: Carolyn Jean calls this “a moody, intriguing and beautifully wrought mystery. But we both know different, don’t we? In terms of how it’s wrought?
“Ain't no place like home,” he said, and Finn made a sound in his throat that was supposed to be humor but wasn't.
Or, this, when they are figuring out that nobody has seen this young fellow for THREE years. Oh, let me tell you how she fell all over herself on this dove bit and so forth.
Finn eyed her curiously from the perspective of his years away. She was in her late sixties now, a small, very plump woman with silky white hair - it had been white since her early thirties - and soft dark eyes. Something about her had always reminded him of a dove, though doves were fairly stupid birds and Martha was a far from stupid woman.
Martha said, “Didn't Fitch come to you in New York?”
“Come to me?” That made him blink. What a funny idea - but maybe not so funny because Fitch wouldn't see what he had done wrong, would he? He would expect to be forgiven as he always was by - his words - better half.
“Didn't Fitch follow you to New York?” asked Martha again and she was staring at him hard now, as though only realizing that something was very wrong. But Fitch had always been her favorite. Fitch was everyone's favorite for all he shocked and appalled people with his outrageous - but God, yes, funny - antics. The things he did and said. It was impossible not to love Fitch.
Even when you hated him.
Josh: How it’s wrought? *g *
Miss Doreen: And here the realization scene. Oh, I suppose it’s intriguing in it’s way. I suppose that is part of your plan, to intrigue us into the mystery, so that we cannot turn back:
But now he sat in the kitchen of the house he had grown up in, the home he had shared for twenty-three years with his twin. Slowly, he worked it out, tried to absorb what it meant. He said, “Fitch isn't here?”
And Martha shook her head slowly, her bright, birdlike eyes wide.
Reading her expression, Finn smiled reassurance, because it seemed ridiculous - like they were talking at cross purposes and they would soon realize what the other actually meant. In a moment they would laugh as the misunderstanding was straightened out. “You mean no one's seen him since…?”
“No?” He took it in slowly, absorbing it much like the heat soaking into his chilled body or the alcohol wending its way through his bloodstream - a gradual realization that he was warm and tipsy and…alone in the world.
He said carefully, “No one has seen or spoken to Fitch in three years?”
Miss Doreen: I just have one question: what is the significance of three years? Is your idea of a double entendre?
Josh: You mean like…like a ménage or something? I just thought three years was a long time not to notice your brother was missing. Even he was --
Miss Doreen: Let’s stop horsing around here. I will give you one chance to tell me what this novella is really about.
Josh: It’s about loving and forgiving, coming to terms with the past and learning to live within the present. It’s about the nature of art and the art of living and loving. And of course it’s a murder mystery.
Miss Doreen: That’s a fascinating answer considering that, if you look closely at the cover, it looks like there is another person standing behind the two men. Did you think nobody would notice?
Josh: I -- there is?
Miss Doreen: Let me give you another chance, Mr. Lanyon, to answer the question. We can even make it a hypothetical. Hypothetically, what if these twins were cowboys, and met a third cowboy or cowgirl. Is this starting to sound familiar? What do you think would happen? And what if they were bathing in the sea, so all they had on was their spurs…
Josh: Miss Doreen, it’s an island off the coast of Maine. There aren’t a lot of cowboys. Or even cowgirls. And even if there were…I honestly think their spurs would rust.
Miss Doreen: You want to play it that way? Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Lanyon, but your gig is up. Your partner sold you out. Did you know that? Jordan Castillo Price herself all but confessed that your story is not only about a menage, but a cowboy menage. What do you say now?
Josh: Jordan said my story was about cowboys and ménage? When? I mean, when did she say that? Because there weren’t any. Cowboys. And they didn’t. The cowboys, I mean.
Miss Doreen: Let me stop you right there—I want to give you a chance to help yourself out here. Since she squealed on you, why not just tell my readers how her story is about a cowboy menage, and for proof, please describe the sex scene in detail.
Josh: But Miss Doreen, Jordan’s story takes place on an island in Michigan during an ice storm. There aren’t any cowboys. And if there were…their…er…popsicles would stick together.
Lanyon was all denial from here on in. He insists there is no cowboy menage, yet the Mr Lanyon image wears a cowboy hat. He seems to be at the height of his writerly powers, and he focuses them on enticing and intruguing the reader with all these interesting questions in the first chapter of this novella. He writes it so that a reader feels compelled to read more, to keep turning the pages, drawing her deeper and deeper. Why?
You can be sure I will be examining every inch of his dubious masterpiece and reporting back. More about Mr. Lanyon here.
Transcript from Room #2: Author Jordan Castillo Price
Topic: Body Art, Jordan Castillo Price's contribution to the Partners in Crime anthology
Suspect Profile: Jordan Castillo Price is best known as the author of the acclaimed PsyCop series, an unfolding tale of paranormal mystery and suspense starring Victor Bayne, a gay medium who's plagued by ghostly visitations.
Miss Doreen: Welcome, Jordan. Thanks for agreeing to come down voluntarily. Did you know Carolyn has recently purchased several of your Psycop books? And that people are just crazy about that whole series? She can’t wait to read them. Are you aware of all the hubub around you?
Don’t answer that. Of course you are. You are a clever person and a clever writer. This small excerpt from the larger one on your site really impressed poor, sweet, gullible Carolyn. She went on and on about how great it was how we learned all this stuff about your character Ray from what he wanted to hide from the employers:
I’d been so excited to know the answer to that one that I’d leaned forward and allowed my tie to slide out of place. The missing button midway down the shirt gaped. I hadn’t noticed it at the thrift store. I’d just been glad to find a dress shirt for less than three bucks that didn’t need to be ironed. I covered the buttonhole with the tie. And then I realized the gesture had caused my sleeve to ride up and show a glimpse of my ink. Damn it. Maybe they hadn’t noticed.Full excerpt here.
Miss Doreen: Very clever indeed. Do you see yourself as a clever person, Jordan Castillo Price?
Jordan Castillo Price: I suppose I’d like to. But there’s a fine line between clever and stupid.
Miss Doreen: Is there? Hmmm. * adjusts hairdo, thinking * Never mind! Let me draw your attention to the book description:
His lover has betrayed and swindled Ray Carlucci out of everything he valued, including a tattoo business. Hounded by creditors, weary of heart, he accepts the job of chauffeur and body man for the dying owner of a remote estate. The island, minus its wealthy summer colony, is colorless in winter and Ray thinks he understands why staff on the estate periodically desert.Miss Doreen: So, do you think that fools people into thinking this isn’t a cowboy menage story?
But, he's baffled by, then drawn to, Anton, the eccentric artist who haunts the forest, bringing strange life to bizarre and disquieting sculptures amidst the ice and trees. When the body of a man who once held Ray's job rises from the frosty earth, Ray wonders what part Anton's wildness has in the escalating violence.
Jordan Castillo Price: Cowboys? On an island in Lake Huron?
Miss Doreen: Right, who can imagine such a thing? What clever fiction writer? Fine, then. Do tell, what is the book about?
Jordan Castillo Price: Body Art is the story about a tattoo artist named Ray who’s lost everything. He takes a job as a chauffer for an elderly couple who live year-round on an island that’s mostly summer homes. Ray thinks he aced the interview because he successfully crammed himself into the mold of a trustworthy, working class guy. But his sexy new neighbor, Anton, tells Ray he looks like a thug playing dress-up.
When it seems like someone who’s not supposed to be there is lurking around the island, Ray starts to wonder if he was hired because if his thuggishness, not in spite of it.
Miss Doreen: Did you know Carolyn Jean Crane loves stories about characters who have lost everything? She will be a sucker for this tattoo artist, this down-and-out fellow drawn into a mystery.
Your cleverness really is admirable. And this poor Ray thinks he was hired for one reason, but perhaps it turns out to be he was hired for an entirely different reason. What could that be?
No! Don’t speak! Allow me to draw your attention to another passage. Here, our hero Ray is woken up by noises in the middle of the night on this deserted island and goes out to the woods to investigate and sees:
A man.Miss Doreen: What exactly is he doing with that knife? Please correct me if I am mistaken, but is it not the case that cowboys frequently gather wood for their fires after a long day driving the herd?Jordan Castillo Price: There are no fires in Body Art.
More accurately, the guy in black from the side of the road. Or if you wanted to split hairs, his silhouette. He hung from the lowest branch of a tree, maybe seven feet off the ground, arms and legs locked around the tree limb. His long coat, long hair — and now a long scarf that he'd added to his ensemble — dangled beneath him. He inched forward and caught a smaller branch with one hand. Moonlight glinted off metal as he pulled a blade from the grip of his teeth. He clenched hard with his legs and started to saw at the smaller branch. When he'd sawed about halfway through, he bent the branch back upon itself.
"What are you doing?" I called.
His silhouette shifted as he faced me. He tucked the knife away, let go with his legs, hung for a second by his hands, and then dropped. The leaves below him gave off a rumpled sigh.
He trailed the branch he'd cut behind him as he crossed the clearing. It dragged through the fallen leaves with a shish-shish-shish. He walked like a runway model, all attitude and hips. And when he stopped in front of me and tossed his dark hair over his shoulder so he could get a look at me, I forgot how to breathe. He was breathtaking, in a wasted sort of way. All soulful eyes and long sideburns and five o'clock shadow.
"What are you doing?" I said a second time. Because what else could I say? Don't tell me you're an overbooked gardener? Or, it's late? Or, what's it gonna take to get you out of all those clothes?
"I'd tell you," he said. "But then you'd think I'm crazy."
Miss Doreen: Please answer the question: is it not the case that cowboys frequently gather wood for their fires after a long day driving the herd?
Jordan Castillo Price: I really can’t say. I’m a city kid. I’ve never met a cowboy.
Miss Doreen: So you won't admit cowboys enjoy campfires. Fine. Now, your character Ray has a number of tattoos. Care to comment on that?
Jordan Castillo Price: The side opposite Ray’s dominant hand is covered with his own work, and the rest of his body features work from his friends and apprentices, and even a tacky piece of flash he got with a fake I.D. when he was 17. It never occurred to Ray that his tattoos would be a liability, and keeping his ink covered is really stressing him out.
Miss Doreen: Have you noticed anything interesting about the cover? And here, I’m talking about the hidden third man. Is it possible that man has tattoos? And that’s why he’s hidden?
Jordan Castillo Price: Huh? You couldn’t wedge a third guy into that cover with a prybar.
Miss Doreen: Let me cut to the chase and save us all some time. There is a third man, behind the other two. What’s more, you need to choose your partners in crime a bit more carefully, Jordan. Because Josh all but said that the man behind the other two men was your character Ray. He also all but said that the men are wearing cowboy hats, and that’s why the photo is cut off there, and he also implied spurs, because they just came in from a swim.
Jordan Castillo Price: Wait -- what? The guys were swimming? With spurs?
Miss Doreen: Yes. Your so called partner was very colorful on that point. I wonder if Josh was projecting. Do you think that’s possible? Considering the cowboy menage content of his story?
Jordan Castillo Price: Are you sure you’re looking at The Art of Dying? Josh’s story was about a painter.
Miss Doreen: Please, you can stop protecting him now. I’m thinking particularly of a specific scene. Oh, dear me, now it’s slipping my mind. Can you remind me of that horribly smutty cowboy menage scene Josh wrote, in full detail?
Jordan Castillo Price: Well, come to think of it…there was that part where Paul threw open the Seal Island Saloon doors and dared anyone to challenge his sexuality. He ended up slung over the bar, greased and naked, with these two Mexican banditos who’d ranged a little farther north than usual…but that was in the first draft. I think Josh might have cut that scene and put in something with a lighthouse instead. Or maybe Paul got killed off. I’m not sure which.
Miss Doreen: * Gasp! * * moment of reflection * Ah, I get it. A comedian. But here is what I think is funny: you say you never met a cowboy, yet who wears a cowboy hat? I refer you to exhibit A.
Here is what else is funny: You make the reader curious about what that hot and mysterious fellow is doing in the woods and why they hired poor Ray, enticing them to read further. You are like a Venus Flytrap, luring the reader in, and then you close your writerly talons around her. You can be sure this reader will not fall into your trap.
Astute readers, you have been warned. Further information on Body Art, Price's novella in the Partners in Crime anthology, can be found here, and more on the works of Jordan Castillo Price here. More excerpts from Lanyon's Lovers and Other Strangers here, and more on Lanyon and his body of work here.
Partners In Crime 4: The Art of Dying, two novellas by Josh Lanyon and Jordan Castillo Price, came out in Trade Paperback just last month from MLR Press; available at most booksellers.