Greg Herren is the prolific author of adult mysteries such as Bourbon Street Blues and Murder in the Irish Channel. Recently he has added young adult fiction to his repertorie of books, with his latest, Lake Thirteen, due to arrive in August. Greg makes his home in New Orleans, a place I desperately want to visit someday! When I mentioned conducting author interviews for this site, I was thrilled when Greg agreed to be interviewed. You see, I’ve been a fan of his for years. After reading this, if you aren’t already, hopefully you become one, too!
Many people will recognize the name Greg Herren and know about the adult mysteries you’ve written. When and why did you decide to jump into the young adult market as well?
GH: Ironically, I was writing young adult fiction before I started writing the mystery series. I wrote the first drafts of three young adult novels during the period 1991-1994. Those novels were (in order of writing) Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel. After I finished each, I just put them in a drawer and never did anything further with them. I started writing my first Chanse MacLeod mystery in 1996 (I worked primarily on short stories in the years between). A very dear friend started working as a y/a acquisitions editor for a major press in 2007, and she knew I had these manuscripts sitting in a drawer—a Big Six publisher had expressed some interest in 2005, but then Katrina happened and…well, nothing came of THAT because I dropped the ball—and she asked me to do a proposal for Sorceress. They didn’t take it, but a few years later she started her own small y/a press, and she wanted to publish it. Bold Strokes started doing y/a around the same time, so I sold Sara and Sleeping Angel to them! So, in a way, publishing y/a novels was like coming full circle for me. I really enjoy writing them, honestly. I have ideas for so many more…
Compared to your adult novels, how have your young adult novels been received? Do you find your longtime fans are reading them, and that new fans of the YA novels are also reading your older material?
GH: Honestly, I was absolutely terrified—I wasn’t sure if the y/a’s would find an audience, or what teens would think of them. My usual readers seem to be reading and enjoying them, and I think they’re finding a new teen audience as well. I was deeply humbled and honored when Sleeping Angel won a mainstream award—I certainly never saw that coming! I’ve gotten some emails from queer teens that found them and liked them, which is always really nice. I try to write books that I would have liked when I was a teen back in the Dark Ages. I don’t know if the teens are reading the two series—I’m not sure how I’d feel about a teen reading the Scotty books—there’s a lot of frank talk about drugs and sex in them, but on the other hand, at least Scotty is very open-minded about sex and sexuality, so they might be helpful that way.
Your next YA novel, Lake Thirteen comes out in August. Can you tell us a little more about it and what inspired you to write this story?
GH: Lake Thirteen is a ghost story set at a rural resort in the mountains of upstate New York. I do love ghost stories; always have, ever since I was a little kid. The resort is actually based on Garnet Hill Lodge, where the Bold Strokes Books author retreat was held several years ago. I just loved the idea that the lake was Thirteenth Lake, and the road up the mountain to the resort was Thirteenth Lake Road. One of the first nights we were there, we went ghost hunting in a cemetery on the mountain, and I had a very similar experience there to what my main character in Lake Thirteen does—although the rest of it is totally fiction. That experience in the cemetery inspired me, and I really loved the resort. It was so beautiful, and I really wanted to write about it, and the experience I had in the cemetery. I also had the best time there—it was my first time meeting a lot of my BSB colleagues in person; it was an amazing experience, and we’ve all stayed in touch. I’m bummed we haven’t had another retreat.
What would you like readers to take out of your books?
GH: First of all, I want anyone who reads one of my books to feel satisfied when they’ve finished reading. Secondly, I hope they want to read another one of mine! And third, I hope that any teen—gay or straight—comes away from one of my y/a’s with a sense that it’s okay to be different.
GH: Actually, I think it would be interesting to be Mouse from Timothy. That book was a lot of fun to write, and I really enjoyed writing from Mouse’s point of view.
I know this is the most unfair question to ask a reader or writer, but if you had to choose a favorite book, which one would it be and why? (Although a top five would be okay if you can’t choose just one!)
GH: It IS hard to choose just one, but I have to say, if cornered, Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier. Timothy is an homage to Rebecca, and I go back and reread it every couple of years or so. It’s just extraordinary, and despite practically knowing the book by heart, every time I read it I take something new away from it; it’s like the book changes somehow between readings. I recently wrote a lengthy essay about it for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter, talking about how the book truly defies categorization.
But I am going to give four more: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett; and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. If I ever got to teach a Modern American Lit class, those would be the five books the class would be reading. (Oh, I know du Maurier was British, but it was a number one bestseller in the US for two years.)
After Lake Thirteen, what comes next? Can you give us some hints as to new YA novels in the works?
GH: Right now, I am writing the sixth Scotty Bradley adventure, Baton Rouge Bingo, and after that I am writing some pseudonymous novels. But I do have another y/a under contract—Mermaid Inn, which I am really looking forward to writing. It’s my attempt to write a y/a noir—very hardboiled—and am very excited about it. It opens with an eighteen year old gay boy arriving at Mermaid Inn, on an inlet off Mobile Bay, to spend the summer working as a lifeguard…but he has an ulterior motive for taking the job. The previous summer, his boyfriend worked there—and disappeared without a trace.
I have ideas for so many more, but one I’ve been itching to write for a long time—I’ve outlined it, and written several chapters already—is a ghost story set in Alabama with ties to the Civil War called Ruins. I have several ideas for New Orleans y/a’s—a ghost story called Voices in an Empty Room, for example, and another whose working title is Maid of New Orleans, about a young girl who hears Joan of Arc’s voices. I also have an idea for a trilogy about a girl descended from a long line of ancient Egyptian priestesses, whose working title is Daughter of Bast—the girl turns sixteen and discovers she can transform into a cat. I haven’t gotten much further than that, really—I have so little free time as it is, but I have so many ideas! I have creative ADD, and when I start work on a new novel my creativity just rages out of control. I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to write all the books I want to!
Many thanks to Greg Herren for stopping by to chat! Make sure you check out his newest YA novel when it is released in August, and if you haven’t done so already, check out his previous novels as well! I’ve read and reviewed Sara and Timothy and loved them both! I know you will too.