Josh Aterovis, popular award-winning author who currently writes what is classified as Young Adult books, and a feature writer for AfterElton.com, is my interview subject today. What many people don’t know is that Josh is also a brilliant artist! You will see some of his pictures on the site and get to know this talented author/artist a little better.
Hi Josh. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Why don’t you start by telling the readers something about Josh personally and as a writer?
Hmm… You like to start with the tough ones, don’t you? Personally, I just celebrated my one year anniversary of moving to Baltimore. It’s been an interesting experience for me, growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is very rural, but I’d say it’s been a very positive experience over all.
Something about me as a writer? I’m a bit of a lazy writer. [laughs] I’m not one of those disciplined writers who force themselves to write so much every day. I write when I’m inspired, or as my aunt says, when the word fairy visits. I work on other things on days when the word fairy refuses to show up.
Kris, one of the guest reviewers on the site wanted to know the answers to these questions –
What made you decide to write a series that featured a young, psychic sleuth? Were you a fan of the Hardy Boys when you were a teenager?
Actually, I was a fan of Nancy Drew. [laughs] I read some Hardy Boys, but I loved Nancy and Bess and George. Then I fell in love with Agatha Christie. This was all when I was still in elementary school. I read a lot as a kid. When I started Bleeding Hearts I didn’t plan on making it a murder mystery. It was going to be more of a romance, and then all of a sudden…I had a body on my hands, and it went from there. The psychic stuff just fell into place. I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal and it just naturally worked its way into my work.
You currently have 3 books published. We first met Killian, your main protagonist in Bleeding Hearts published in 2001. Did you intend at that time to write a series?
When I started writing Bleeding Hearts, I didn’t even intend to publish it. It started as a web series, posted one chapter at a time online. It was so well-received that I decided to see what a publisher thought. The first publisher I queried wanted it, and the rest is history. By that time, I knew I wanted it to be a series.
Kris has a few other questions for you –Bleeding Hearts is by no means an ‘easy’ read and deals with such issues as parental abuse, coming out, hate crime, murder, grief, first love, the paranormal and mental instability. Why would you want to tackle such themes in this first book in the series and, quite frankly, put Killian through hell? Or did you, as some authors have said here before, write the story that wanted to be told?
I didn’t even outline Bleeding Hearts. I just sat down and started writing. I had no idea where the story was going before my fingers hit the keys. Much of it was almost like being in a trance while the words came from somewhere else. I’d finish a section and read back over it as if I was seeing it for the first time. I definitely felt like I was telling Killian’s story as he was telling it to me.
I didn’t really have an agenda except that I felt like this story hadn’t been told at that point. A lot of the issues you mentioned were either things I was afraid of at that time — following right on the heels of Matthew Shepard’s murder, and coming from a very religious family — or I’d heard from friends online, so why not tackle those themes? It’s stuff real kids were (and are) dealing with and nobody likes to be talked down to. I dealt with them as realistically and honestly as I could.
All Lost Things is your most recent release. For those readers who haven’t read this book what would be your sales pitch to get them to buy it.
There’s hot guys, murder, romance, danger…and ghosts! What’s not to love?
Is each “Killian” book in the series a standalone or would someone have to start with Bleeding Hearts?
I think, as with most series, it helps to have read all the books in order, but you can easily come in on Reap The Whirlwind or All Lost Things and still follow the story. Each novel is self-contained, but there may be references to characters from previous books or Killian’s earlier cases. You would definitely have some spoilers if you started with a later book, but I’ve heard from readers who have and still loved the earlier books.
What do you find so fascinating about Killian’s character, and why do you think we should care about him?
My favorite thing about Killian is that he’s very real. He’s flawed, but also very caring and compassionate. He’s been through a lot, but still looks for the best in people. I love his insatiable curiosity and strong sense of justice. I think my readers respond to those same qualities about him. The highest compliment I’ve ever received is that Killian seems so real my readers think of him as a friend.
Bleeding Hearts was published in 2001, Reap the Whirlwind in 2003, but All Lost Things only came out this year, a space of 6 years between the last two books. Did you lose your muse or were you just busy elsewhere?
All Lost Things was finished and ready to go back in 2004, but I decided to move the series to a new publisher. I was accepted by Haworth Press’ Southern Tier imprint, and then, just before we were to start the editing process, they sold to a British company that only wanted their non-fiction titles. All the fiction books went into limbo. They called us the Haworth Orphans. It was quite a while before things were sorted out and the rights reverted to me, and then I had to start the whole process over again: find a new publisher, get in queue, edit, edit, and then edit some more, and so on. It was a long wait for me too! I did republish Bleeding Hearts and Reap The Whirlwind in that time as well. Now all my books are published by PD Publishing. In fact, the PD edition of Bleeding Hearts was heavily rewritten and is the version the rest of series is built on, so if you want perfect continuity, you should read the PD series.
In All Lost Things, Killian moves on from high school and his relationships begin to change as he explores new opportunities. Was this deliberately done to continue the progress of Killian’s coming of age? Also, are you expecting some backlash from your fans (our reviewer Kris was actually pleased with Killian moving on) about these changes? If so, what would you say to them?
From the moment I decided I wanted it to be a series, I’d always intended for Killian to age, mature, and evolve throughout the series. As much as love those old Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew novels, it always bothered me how static the characters were. They never changed. Now, I’m a much bigger fan of series like Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone mysteries, where Sharon has changed and aged over time. Ms. Muller has been writing that series since the 70s, and it’s still just as fresh and interesting as when she started. If anything, it’s only improved with time. That was what I wanted for Killian. Look at the Harry Potter series. Readers loved that they grew and aged along with Harry. It’s more realistic. Nobody except the Simpson’s stays the same forever.
I’ve never had any backlash to Killian’s aging, only positive responses, so I’ve never had to think about defending my creative decisions. [laughs] I guess I’d just tell them to think of Killian as a friend who is growing along with you.
I believe you’re writing your fourth book, The Truth of Yesterday, which will be released next Spring. Can you tell us something about the story? What’s different about the new book?
In The Truth of Yesterday, a gay escort is murdered in Washington, DC, and when police don’t seem to be moving very quickly on the case, Killian is asked to investigate. He’s also hired to investigate a friend. Both cases hit very close to home for Killian, which creates a lot of emotional confusion for him. Also, the ghost story from All Lost Things continues in TTOY.
The Truth of Yesterday is the first book that really takes Killian away from the Eastern Shore for a case. In All Lost Things, he made a brief trip to DC to question a suspect, but the bulk of his main case in TTOY takes place in the city. It also really continues to move Killian’s personal growth along. He loses his virginity in TTOY!
Killian has shown a lot of character growth since Bleeding Hearts mainly because he ages. How long do you see the stories continuing? Have you decided on a story arc? Obviously as he ages and falls in love his life will evolve and the innocent kisses will eventually change to sex and lots of it, which means that these books will no longer be considered YA. Are you OK with that?
As I said, I always intended from Killian to age with the series. I never really meant for it be labeled “Young Adult.” I’m very happy for the YA attention it’s received, but I don’t want to get boxed in by that. I just wanted to follow Killian’s journey from beginning to…well, whenever the series ends. This way, we get to watch Killian go from a confused kid to a successful private investigator. You get his whole backstory as part of the series, and you really get to grow along with him.
I’d love for the series to continue for as long as I have interesting stories to tell about Killian and his friends and family…and as long as people want to read about him. I’d be thrilled if I was still writing about Killian thirty years from now. I do have some overall ideas for him in the future, but we’ll have to see how they develop. While I do outline my books now, the outline is more of a flexible guideline than a strict structure. The story still changes and evolves as I go. The characters still boss me around a bit.
As far as the sex goes, you’re right, there will be more and more as the series continues and Killian ages. I’m definitely more of a fade-to-black kind of guy when it comes to love scenes, though, so I don’t know if I’ll ever have hot-and-heavy erotic scenes. I’m not sure it would feel organic in this series. Maybe if I ever write a different series or branch out into other books…
Your books are great for young gay kids looking for something exciting to read that is not just sex 24/7, and I think this is probably the first series starring a gay teen detective. Adults like your books too. Victor J. Banis raves about them. :) What made you decide to write these books in the first place? Was it because you could not find anything you wanted to read?
According to Wayne Gunn, author of The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film, I am the first and still the only series with a gay teen detective. As I alluded to earlier, when I started writing in 1999, there were virtually no books for gay teens and young adults. I wanted to help fill that void, hence the teen protagonist. The same year Bleeding Hearts was published, Alex Sanchez started his Rainbow Boys series, and soon after that, Brent Hartinger published Geography Club, and a whole slew of gay YA novels followed. I like to think I helped contribute to that in some small way. But I’ve been fortunate from day one that adults enjoyed my books as much as teens. I have a very diverse readership, something I’m very proud of.
You have a day job, you write books, and you have a relationship column for Baltimore OUTloud called Single Black Sheep. How has the column been received by your target audience?
The column has been very well received. I don’t get that much feedback from its print run, but when I repost the column on my MySpace blog, I get fantastic feedback. I think young gay men really struggle with dating and relationships because we don’t really have role models. Straight kids grow up seeing couples everywhere: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends, their friend’s parents, on TV and in movies — and they get to learn by observing, both the mistakes as well as the successes. Gay kids seldom have that same opportunity. We’re just now starting to see actual gay couples on TV, and they can still be counted on one hand. It’s also harder for gay people to meet dating prospects. The question I get asked most is “how do I meet people?”
You’re still very young – when do you find time to have any fun?
You make time. I think it’s really important to maintain a balance and I’m a pretty social person. I like to have fun, so I work a lot, but I play a lot too. I usually try to keep weekends reserved for relaxing and spending time with my friends and boyfriend.
You also write a regular column for AfterElton.com, a well-known and very popular gay and bisexual entertainment news site. How did this come about?
It’s not really a column for AfterElton.com. I’m a featured writer for them, but I mostly do interviews. Right now, I’m also recapping the TV show Glee, which is a lot of fun. The job came about through an old LGBT issues column I used to write called Heart to Heart. My writer friend Brent Hartinger read one I’d done about the dearth of gay characters on TV, and he sent it along to his husband, Michael Jensen, who just happened to be the editor-in-chief of AfterElton.com. He was looking for new writers at the time, so he contacted me and asked if I’d like to write for them. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
What’s the most fun assignment you ever had? Who is the most famous celebrity that you have interviewed and what was the interview about? Who did you interview that you think was a real dork?
I don’t know who would be the most famous person I’ve interviewed. I guess that depends on how you measure fame. [laughs] My very first interview was with Tony-award-winning actor John Glover. I was a nervous wreck. I’ve interviewed everyone from Carson Kressley to Rodney Chester to Ron Rifkin. I interview a lot of reality show stars, especially from Survivor, Amazing Race, and Project Runway. We usually talk about their latest project or whatever show they just got kicked off of (or in some cases, like Todd Herzog, just won). I’ve been pleasantly surprised by most of my interview subjects. They usually turn out to be intelligent and well-spoken. The biggest surprise was Carson Kressley. From watching him on Queer Eye, I expected him to be a shallow clown. Instead, he was extremely thoughtful and absolutely brilliant. One of my all-time favorite interviews. He was such a nice guy.
If I had to pick a least favorite, it would probably William Sledd. I was not overly impressed with his responses and he struck me as one of those people who just wants attention.
The most fun I ever had in an interview has to be Danny and Oswald from Amazing Race. They pretty much interviewed themselves. I was too busy laughing to get more than a few questions in. And they hit on me, so that’s always fun
You’re an artist as well. How would you describe your art? I notice that you have many different images but I love the seascapes and the ones walking on the beach the most! How did you get started? Why is it that you don’t use white paint in your paintings? *g*
I primarily paint in watercolor, and I paint in a very traditional, realistic style. I’ve always loved art and sketching, and one day, an artist friend of the family saw some of my drawings and offered to mentor me if I was interested. Of course I was. He was a brilliant artist, nationally recognized and well-respected. I would have had to be an idiot to turn down such an opportunity! He taught me everything I know about watercolor. I worked with him for four years, and still consider him more family than anything.
In the purist tradition of watercolor, there is no such thing as white pigment. All the white in the painting has to be the white of the paper. My mentor was a strict purist, so it’s how I learned to paint. It’s just natural for me now.
How would someone contact you if s/he wanted to buy one of your pictures?
Just shoot me an email. The information is on my website.
You say on your website that the reason you started writing and the reason you keep writing is to make a difference in the lives of other people, and entertain them at the same time. What would you say is your greatest achievement as a writer?
The emails I’ve gotten over the years, usually from gay teens who were struggling and found something in my books that helped. The one that meant the most to me was actually from a parent of a gay teen who wrote and said she’d never understood her son until he gave her a copy of my book, and it changed their entire relationship. It was the first time the parent ever really understood her son and what it meant to be gay. To have played a part in that…that means more than any award I could ever receive. Not that awards aren’t nice too. [laughs]
You indicate that although you figured out in the 6th grade you were gay, you didn’t really accept your sexual orientation until you were 22 because of your conservative Christian background. What would you say to other young kids who are going through the same thing today? We haven’t really come that far in terms of acceptance by the majority of minority rights. What advice would you offer gay kids that would make the transition easier?
We’ve come a long way in some areas, but unfortunately there are still far too many kids struggling with coming out and acceptance. The only advice I can give to someone in that position is never stop believing in your own worth and just hang in there. It will get better. Find people you trust who accept you for who you are. Having friends who love you for yourself makes a huge difference. And above all else, don’t buy into the lies.
Thank you for indulging me Josh.
Thanks so much for interviewing me! I really enjoyed it. You asked some tough questions!
Josh Aterovis’s contact information: