The Much-Needed Queer Thriller You Should Be Reading
NS: In a sense, BATH HAUS is all about one man’s lie spiraling out of control and the deadly consequences that follow. It’s filled with twists and turns and unexpected scenes that will leave reader’s guessing until the very last page. In all of that excitement, what was the most memorable scene for you to write?
PV: Thank you for this praise – it means so much to hear it! The opening of scene of BATH HAUS was far and away the most memorable to draft. The jungle humid atmosphere, the voyeurism, the palpable sense of danger, both real and perceived. I got such a rush getting all the high-stakes and electric tension on the page. It was downright thrilling to write, and I hope readers get that same experience, too.
NS: A lot of folks have praised you for being able to write a thriller featuring unapologetic LGBTQ+ characters. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of LBGTQ+ protagonists in crime fiction. BATH HAUS is notable in this sense, and hopefully, sets a course for more books of its kind. What are your thoughts on the future of the crime fiction genre and diversity and representation in traditional publishing?
PV: From my own, narrow experience with this very queer book with very messy queers behaving very badly, I’m finding crime fiction readers just want a good story. Deliver that and everything else simply becomes part of the narrative. Representation in traditional publishing doesn’t have to be a box to check. We don’t need “diversity panels” when we’re prioritizing readership, because readers already are diverse. If the goal of publishers is to offer the “best of the best” in any genre, we need to ask ourselves why these voices have been almost exclusively white and cis-het. Pew Research found “the most likely person to pick up a book – in any format – is a Black woman with a college degree” [The Most Likely Person to Read a Book? A College-Educated Black Woman – The Atlantic], for example. If I were in the business of acquiring books, churning out titles authored by Black voices whenever possible seems like a no-brainer based on this data alone. How can any list or catalog represent what crime fiction has to offer when entire communities of writers (and therefore readers) are excluded?
This isn’t a zero-sum gig. Shelves are limitless, so it’s not about replacing books; it’s about bringing folks even more great ones. This is a long-overdue conversation that’s finally unfolding, but we have a long ways still to go. I’m optimistic that again, given reader demand, titles like mine and others will build their own business cases and strengthen confidence in both authors and industry folks. So, for any marginalized writers out there with stories to tell: You belong in books. Your readers need your voice.
NS: BATH HAUS seems to be a divergence from your first thriller WHEN YOU FIND ME. Though both main characters are tortured by their pasts and, often, present decisions, WHEN YOU FIND ME is a slower burn. How has your writing process changed since WHEN YOU FIND ME in 2018?
PV: I hope my process has improved, and will keep doing just that! The biggest difference between these two manuscripts was how unfettered I felt writing them. I’m only now beginning to appreciate how much I’d limited my own storytelling by keeping my queer, lived experiences off the page. To finally draw upon that same well of creativity other traditionally published authors have been leveraging for all of human history? Nothing shy of incredible.
As for the departure in setting, style, plot, prose, and just about everything else? I enjoy experimenting my way into new ideas and worlds. I’m honored for the chance to demonstrate range and push boundaries. I hope readers keep letting me do it.
NS: Speaking of bathhouses, what type of research did you have to do for this novel? Strictly SFW speaking, of course.
Let’s just say all my research on this front was exhaustively completed before my own writing ever justified it. Ha!
NS: Are you working on anything new you can share?
PV: I can’t say much for now, but of course! Writers gotta write! What I’m cooking up is again, a bit of a departure from both WHEN YOU FIND ME and BATH HAUS (though still queer AF). It’s very dark, very voyeuristic, and I’m having a hell of a good time with it. More soon!
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P. J. Vernon
Oliver Park, a recovering addict from Indiana, finally has everything he ever wanted: sobriety and a loving, wealthy partner in Nathan, a prominent DC trauma surgeon. Despite their difference in age and disparate backgrounds, they've made a perfect life together. With everything to lose, Oliver shouldn't be visiting Haus, a gay bathhouse. But through the entrance he goes, and it's a line crossed. Inside, he follows a man into a private room, and it's the final line. Whatever happens next, Nathan can never know. But then, everything goes wrong, terribly wrong, and Oliver barely escapes with his life.
He races home in full-blown terror as the hand-shaped bruise grows dark on his neck. The truth will destroy Nathan and everything they have together, so Oliver does the thing he used to do so well: he lies.
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