THE P-TOWN MURDERS
Cormorant Books
Publication date June 2008
ISBN 9781897151280

In a place that's “to die for,” no one expects to die for real.

So muses undercover detective Bradford Fairfax after an anonymous caller reveals to him that his ex-boyfriend, party boy Ross Pretty, has died from an ecstasy overdose in “the gayest place on earth” -- Provincetown, Massachusetts. But as the body of another “overdose” victim washes up on the shores of P-Town, Brad becomes convinced that Ross's death is no accident, and his intention to bury his former lover suddenly turns into a full-scale investigation. It seems that freewheeling P-Town has a dark side, one full of greed, jealousy, and deadly games.

Brad quickly pins the murder on Ross's ex-employer, the malevolent Hayden Rosengarten, owner of a high-end sex resort catering to a rich and famous clientele for whom discretion is everything. But when Rosengarten also turns up dead, the list of suspects suddenly grows: could it be Cinder Lindquist, the flamboyant female-impersonator? Or Johnny K., one of Rosengarten's merciless henchmen? What about Big Ruby, the lesbian café owner with a big heart, but an even bigger gun? To top it all off, Brad finds himself falling in love with Zach, a blue-haired twink from his past. But can he trust him? In P-Town it seems everyone has a secret to hide.

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A Reader's Guide to 'The P'Town Murders'


I made my first pilgrimage to Provincetown in September 1991 and stayed at Romeo's Guesthouse on Bradford St, near the Pilgrim Monument. Until then, I had only heard vague references to Provincetown as being a gay Mecca.

The impetus for the trip was a former boyfriend, Joseph Van Veen, who had completed a cycling tour from Toronto to Provincetown the year before. We dated briefly before he went on a European tour and left me with a photo of him on the way to Provincetown. It burned into my memory.

My initial attempt to reach Provincetown nearly ended in disaster. I stayed overnight in Boston then got up early to catch the Provincetown Fast Ferry. Arriving at the pier in a light rain, I smelled greasy eggs and acidic coffee. Happily, I turned down breakfast.

Half an hour out, we were hit by twenty-foot waves. Nearly everyone--including the crew--was seasick. People lay on the floor clinging to table legs or hung onto refuse barrels in passageways. The smell of vomit was overwhelming. I escaped to the top deck and shared a quiet spot with a young Asian girl. To see the ocean in turmoil was exciting, but I hadn't felt a thing.

Arriving back in Boston, I made friends with a fellow traveller named David Jones. We shared lunch in Chinatown then continued to Provincetown by bus. I spent three days there, much of it in David's company (he was a houseboy at another guesthouse.)

It rained the entire time. I had fun, mostly thanks to David, but didn't get much sense of the place. One of my lasting memories, however, was of all the men gathered outside Spiritus Pizza on Commercial St every night starting just before midnight and continuing into the early hours.

Eleven years passed. When I returned, I stayed with a Canadian who worked there under the table, one of many who visited and were unable to leave. I slept on an air mattress on her bedroom floor. Uncomfortable as it was, I felt grateful to be there. What I remember most from this trip were the same-sex couples holding hands and wandering in peace and unfettered freedom. To me, it was the Promised Land.

Over the better part of a week, I took every opportunity to explore. I got a good feel for the town, its dunes, beaches and bars, and had a brief but intense affair with a man named Charlie, who introduced me to Race Point, later an important location in the book.

This time, I was hooked by the cape and the tiny jewel of a town at its furthermost point. I'd finally felt the magic. A year later, I'd met a new boyfriend, Shane, an avid traveller like me. That September, we drove there. Unable to afford the expensive B&Bs--an integral part of any P-town experience--we reluctantly decided to tent in a campground outside town.

On the way, we stopped in Boston to visit my friends Janice Hill and Uppinder Mehan. Janice suggested that her boss, Ned Bradford, might let us stay at his newly purchased Provincetown home.

I was doubtful. Most Provincetown guesthouses started at $90 a night. We had a strict budget and could only offer what we intended to spend at the campground: $30 a night. To my surprise, Ned agreed. He warned us the house was sparsely furnished, as he'd only recently purchased the property. No matter--we were game.

From outside, Ned's was one of several complexes at the intersection of Route 6 and 6A, or Bradford Street. (If you're looking for it, it's the one with the rusted ship's anchor in front.) Inside, it was spectacular, with its open architecture and unimpeded view of the dunes and the ocean, just one block from where the pilgrims first landed.

Along with a fridge, stove and potted palm, it had one small bed and a marbled bath. But that was all we needed. It was paradise. We stocked the fridge with wine and food and went out to explore.

On our second day, we decided to try the Jacuzzi. I'd just stood up to towel off when I glanced across the way and saw a pair of binoculars trained on me. I flashed the guy and stepped out of the tub. In that moment, however, I had a flash of my own: one of being spied on, shot at, and stalked along the streets of Provincetown. I suddenly found myself in a murder mystery, a genre I'd never considered before.

The entire trip, I ran into people or overheard things I knew would end up in the book. One day, as we walked along Bradford St, an older woman called out to us to be careful. Seconds later, a fast moving car came perilously close to hitting us. “They'll mow you down like wheat!” she cried. In that moment, the character Big Ruby was born. By then, the book was in full swing. I already knew its title: The P'Town Murders (revised to “P-town” in the second edition.)

On my return, I churned out a rough draft in 18 days, at for me an astonishing rate of 2,500 words per day--nearly ten times my normal speed. A number of Provincetown landmarks made it into the book. The Pilgrim Monument provided one of the book's most enjoyable scenes, where a masked killer stalks Brad and Zach around its upper deck. There was a historic building known as the Ice House, now gone, but it wasn't where I located it in the story. A modern-day Ice House exists as a condo unit, but my Ice House is largely fictional.

In writing this book, my intention was to create a world where LGBTQ folk were the norm: where we could be heroes and villains as well as victims. I also began to form a plan for a series, with each volume set in a well-known gay resort.

I soon had a polished draft ready to make the rounds of publishers. As far as I was concerned, I'd written P'Town for the American market, and it would be sold there. My first published novel, A Cage of Bones, went unsold in Canada for five years before I sent it to an American and British publisher. Both accepted the book within months. (I went with Gay Men's Press, the UK publisher.) As patriotic as I am, I no longer have patience for the slow, deliberate ways of Canadian publishers.

I was convinced this book would sell quickly. Provincetown has only two main streets--Bradford and Commercial--and I'd named my hero after one of them. On a whim, I called Janice to ask if her boss's name had anything to do with Bradford St. In fact, it did: Ned Bradford's great-great-something grandfather had been on the Mayflower. I'd written a book about Provincetown in the house of a descendant of one of the first Europeans to land there. To me, that seemed a sure sign of success.

What I hadn't counted on, however, was my conservative and short-sighted agent, who patronizingly said that, as I was a Canadian writer, my book had to make the rounds of Canadian publishing houses. Then, if it sold here and did reasonably well, in a few years she might send it south of the border.

The thought of waiting another five years to be turned down again by every short-sighted publisher in Canada sent me into a frenzy. This book was hot: gay mysteries were selling like crazy in the US, if not at home. Its time was now.

In 2001, I had sold a short story, “The Perfect Time To Be In Paris,” to the Harrington Gay Men's Fiction Quarterly. I knew they also published novels, and I chose them for the test drive for this book. I sent the first 30 pages and a write-up of my intentions for a series based in and around gay resorts.

I soon had a letter from Harrington saying they liked what I'd sent and wanted to see the full manuscript. I wrote back to the editor, saying I had just signed on with a new agent and he would have to deal with her, but assuring him Harrington could have first offer.

I then told my agent I had an inside source at a US publisher who said they were looking for a book exactly like mine. When she replied that she would think about it, I nearly hit the roof. (It was only one of several major collisions I would have with her before finally jettisoning myself out her inept clutches.)

Harrington bought The P-town Murders in April 2005, a year after I finished it. All went well until August, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I knew my editor, Greg Herren, lived in New Orleans, and I was prepared for the worst. I just assumed my manuscript had been lost--small potatoes compared with the city's miseries--and at best, the publishing schedule would be years behind.

To my great surprise and relief, Greg wrote to say my manuscript was safe with him in another state. He'd taken it along with a few personal possessions when he and his lover had fled the storm. As far as he knew, Harrington's schedule would not change. I can't recall ever being so grateful or astounded by an act of simple kindness.

The book was to be published in the summer of 2007. I made plans for an inaugural reading at the Saints and Sinners Gay Lit Festival in a barely recovering New Orleans. I was overjoyed to learn I would read alongside Patricia Nell Warren, whose The Front Runner was the first gay commercial bestseller, and one of the first gay books I'd read.

When I reached New Orleans, however, my book had not arrived. Not to be put off, I read an excerpt alongside Warren, a memory that still thrills me. I had a great time discovering that wonderful city, though admittedly it was in a sorrowful state then, less than a year after Katrina. (Today it's one of the few places I would live in the US.)

My copies of P'Town finally reached me back home, but the news was dismal. At my request, Paul Bellini at Fab took it on to review, as did a few Americans, but no one else. Worse--none of the larger Canadian stores were willing to stock it. Thankfully, some of the independent stores like Glad Day Books and This Ain't The Rosedale Library helped with the selling.

A fall tour met a similar fate. By the time I arrived for a reading at A Different Light Books in West Hollywood, Harrington had announced plans to cease publishing fiction. There were only a handful of copies left in stock. Thankfully, a very kind manager at Harrington had the last copies express delivered for me to take to Vancouver, where I read at Little Sister's Bookstore.

I threw a launch for myself at Slack's in Toronto, thinking it might well be the end of the book and the series. After all that work, it seemed too sad to be true. I was certainly rethinking my decision to be a self-supporting writer, which seemed at that moment an impossible goal.

The irony didn't escape me: the book sold well everywhere it was stocked. I contacted gay bookstores all over North America to ask if they would purchase additional copies, if I could supply them. Most said yes. Spurred by my determination to keep the book in print, my agent finally kicked into gear and resold it to Cormorant Books.

Cormorant agreed to keep the book colourful, at my request, and turned out a really fun cover. Apart from the amendment of a few American oddities (e.g. a highway that doesn't go through a state is not an “interstate,” but a “route”) the text is essentially the same. The classy new edition was published in summer 2008, one year after the Harrington release.

Critics in Canada were a bit more receptive now that the book had a Canadian publisher. Some got it, but not everyone understood I was aiming to write something more than a clever mystery. It seems critics want you to be literary or a mystery writer, but not both. I consider myself a stylist first and a mystery writer second. Apparently, this gets in the way of folks who read for story alone.

Reviewers with a sense of humour understand my seemingly frivolous critiques on gay life, but sadly not all critics come equipped with a funny bone. (I think it should be made mandatory before you're allowed to write reviews, just as it should be mandatory to take a parenting skills course before you're allowed to breed.)

In the meantime, I've kept writing. I received so much fan mail asking about subsequent volumes (one fan even demanded I send an advance copy of the second book, claiming he couldn't wait), I knew this was going somewhere.

Cormorant released Death In Key West in the summer of 2009 to uniformly strong acclaim and sales. Next up is Vanished In Vallarta, in the summer of 2010. I've already finished a rough draft for Bon Ton Roulez, fourth in the series, and fittingly set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

After that, it's The Prophet of Palm Springs. Books six and seven, as yet untitled, may be set in Toronto and San Francisco, though by then I may have visited other gay resorts. If you live in one, why not invite me?


 

 
 

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