And Being the Black Sheep of the Family

Josh Aterovis has published four books in the Killian Kendall mystery series. His first book, Bleeding Hearts (P.D. Publishing), introduced gay teen sleuth Killian Kendall, and won several awards, including the Whodunit Award from the StoneWall Society. He followed up by winning the Whodunit Award again the following year for Reap the Whirlwind.

The third book in the series, All Lost Things, was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Awards for Gay Mystery. The Truth of Yesterday, the fourth in the series, has just been published.

Josh was born and raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where his books are set. He now lives in Baltimore, MD.

WG: Tell us about your pen name. How did you come to choose it? And how does one pronounce it?

JA: When I first decided to use a pen name, I was emailing back and forth with my aunt who was, at that time, my only supportive family member. We always joked that we were the black sheep of the family, so she always addressed her emails “Nephew Black Sheep” and signed them “Auntie Black Sheep.” Ater is Latin for black, and ovis is sheep. Put them together… It’s pronounced a-TARE-oh-vis.

WG: What made you become a writer, especially a mystery writer?

JA: I always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a kid. The first series I really fell in love with was Nancy Drew, so I’ve always been drawn to mysteries. It just seemed like a natural fit when I started writing.

WG: How did you come to create Killian Kendall?

JA: I don’t feel like I created Killian so much as he sprung forth fully-formed like Athena from Zeus’s head. He’s always seemed more like a real person than an imaginary creation.

WG: I’ve been following your books now from the first one 10 years ago. It’s my impression that Killian is following a “Harry Potter” curve; that is, in each book he gets older and will soon no longer be a teenager. How will this affect your readers?

JA: I wish I was also following a “Harry Potter” curve in my bank account! I hope my readers will grow with Killian in the same way that Rowling’s readers grew with Harry, and maybe I’ll attract even more readers who were initially turned off by the idea of a 16-year-old narrator. The idea is that he will continue to grow and evolve with each book. It’s a great way to explore that time of life when we’re all struggling to find our own identity.

WG: For years I was afraid to write authors. When I got up the nerve to write a poet how much I loved his work, I was shocked when he thanked me for writing! Tell me something about your relationship with Killian fans.

JA: Writing is a very solitary artform. Sometimes, it seems like we’re working in a bubble with little to no contact with those who enjoy the end-product. Reviews are one thing, but to actually receive an email from a reader who loved your book is something else entirely.

I try to answer every email personally. In a few instances, the correspondence has even resulted in friendships (and at least one ex-husband). Some of the emails I’ve received are my most cherished memories. I just received one recently from a young man in Ireland who thanked me for writing “positive, realistic role models” and helping him accept himself. Something like that makes all the hard work worth it.

WG: Describe your new book in exactly 20 words.

JA: A gay escort (who happens to be Killian’s boyfriend’s ex) is murdered and Killian is hired to find the killer.

WG: As you know from our prior conversations, I have real reservations about introducing the paranormal into an otherwise realistic setting. Try to convince me again that it’s legitimate.

JA: I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be for everyone, but I’ve always been fascinated by the supernatural and paranormal, and have had some experiences of my own—not quite to the same extent that Killian does in my books, but still things that can’t be easily explained away.

It was something I always wanted to introduce to the series, and I planted the seeds all the way back in Bleeding Hearts. I’ve tried to do it as realistically as possible, and most people have responded positively.

WG: Which writers have been the greatest influence on you, and in what way?

JA: From a mystery standpoint, definitely Marcia Muller. I loved the way her character Sharon McCone has aged and changed since the series was first introduced in the 1970s. Muller is still writing the same series and it’s still fresh and gripping. I patterned my series very much after her. I was also influenced a bit by Mercedes Lackey’s early books, both by her idea of “Gifts” and just her overall writing style, especially her fade-to-black style of love scenes.

WG: Tell us a little bit about your writing habits: the atmosphere you like to create, the goals you set for yourself each day.

JA: I need complete silence when I’m writing. No TV, no music, no conversation…I almost need a sensory deprivation chamber. I’m easily distracted until I really get into the groove, and once I’m distracted, it’s very difficult to get back in the groove. I try to write roughly half a chapter a day when things are going well, but if they’re not, I don’t press it. I’ll just work on something else instead.

WG: What impact do you think the decline of print, the current disarray of publishing, and the rise of the e-book will have on your writing career, if any?

JA: The landscape looks drastically different from even ten years ago. The old corporate models are crumbling, and there are so many small, indie houses popping up to fill the void. It’s already affected my career: I got my start with one of those small upstarts, and I’m still with another one today. It will be very interesting to see how things have changed in another ten years.

E-books seem like the future, but they’ve been slow to take off. As technology improves, they will hopefully draw new readers. Only my first two books are available as e-book, but my publisher is working on releasing all my titles.

WG: All of your books show that created families can be just as good and sometimes a whole lot better than biological families. Would you care to comment on your own relationship with your biological family?

JA: I used to be very close to my extremely conservatively religious family, but my coming out definitely created a divide between us that has only widened over time, despite the fact that they are more accepting of my sexuality now than ever. We just have very fundamentally different worldviews, and while I love them, I’m much closer to my chosen family.

WG: Having been through a very painful period in your life recently, what advice would you have for others when they suffer crises in a relationship of any kind?

JA: It sounds like a cliché, but hang in there, it gets better. When my 8-year relationship ended, I thought my whole world was ending with it, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. It forced me to do things I never would have done otherwise, like move to a new city. I’ve experienced new things and met so many wonderful people, and none of that would have happened if my relationship hadn’t ended. Was it difficult and scary? Absolutely. But in the end it made me a better, stronger person.

WG: As I’ve come to know you, I find you to be a much more serious person than I would have first thought. So tell me: what is the silliest thing you have done?

JA: My close friends would probably fall out of their chairs laughing at the idea that I’m a serious person. I’m often very silly, even sarcastic and snarky, but I do try to behave appropriately for whatever situation I’m in, and I am very serious about some things. The silliest thing I’ve done recently was pole dancing this past weekend. And I still have the bruises to prove it! (And if you were my Facebook friend you’d have seen the pictures, too!)

WG: Every interview has to have at least one utterly off-the-wall question. So, if you were the professional dancer on Dancing with the Stars, what celebrity would you love to be paired up with?

JA: I’m hopelessly uncoordinated, so the idea of me as the professional dancer is pretty funny, but I’d pick Neil Patrick Harris. Aside from the fact that he’s dreamy, he’s talented enough to cover up my clumsiness. And maybe his equally dreamy husband, David Burtka, could join us for a spin around the room….

WG: Tell me about your upcoming tour to promote the new novel.

JA: I have several dates planned in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, and New Orleans. I’m still firming up dates in Chicago and DC. This will be my first real book tour, and I’m pretty excited. For dates and locations, you can visit my website at www.joshaterovis.com.



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  • Lou Kief

2 Responses to “Josh Aterovis: Falling in love with Nancy Drew”

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