Interview with Author Michael Nava

Dharma Kelleher: From Dark Pariah Press in Phoenix, Arizona comes The Gritty Gritty, a podcast highlighting OwnVoices in crime fiction. I’m your host, Dharma Kelleher.

In today’s episode, I talk with award-winning author, Michael Nava, whose recently released novel, Carved in Bone, is the latest in his Henry Rios mystery series.

It is the first Henry Rios novel he’s released in 20 years and is an exploration into what life was like for many young gay men in San Francisco during the 1970s and 80s.

Here is the interview.

Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of eight novels featuring gay Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios, who Garth Greenwell, writing in the New Yorker, called a detective unlike any previous protagonist in American Noir.

Michael has received six Lambda Literary Awards. In 2001, he was awarded the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle.

A third-generation Californian, Michael is also a graduate of Stanford Law School and practiced law for 35 years before his retirement from the profession in 2016.

He divides his time between San Francisco and Palm Springs.

Welcome to the Gritty Gritty, Michael.

Michael Nava: Thank you. Great to be here.

Dharma Kelleher: Now you grew up in a working-class Mexican neighborhood in Sacramento that you described as “not as an American suburb at all, but rather a Mexican village transported from Guanajuato, where my grandmother’s family originated and set down lock, stock and chicken coop in the middle of California.” Tell us about that.

Michael Nava: Well, it was on the outskirts of the city of Sacramento, which was a pretty small town itself. It was in a neighborhood that had been a huge almost-plantation that had been chopped up and sold. And it was one of the few, or maybe the only, area in Sacramento County where Mexicans were allowed to buy land because back in the 30s and 40s, there were what are called restrictive covenants which basically said that certain racial and ethnic groups could not buy property. Blacks, of course. But in California and other western states, it also applied to Mexicans.

So, my family settled in this neighborhood called Gardenland because it was one of the only places where they could actually own property. And it was quite isolated. And it was neglected by the rest of the city.

 My mother, who was born in 1933, she didn’t have running water when she was a child. They had a pump, and they had outhouses. We’re talking about the 40s, the 1940s. Not the 1840s.

Even when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, we didn’t have sidewalks. There weren’t street lights. So, it was left to its own devices, and it was populated mostly by Mexican immigrants, first and second generation. Children of those immigrants. So, it was not the stereotypic, Baby-Boomer, Leave-It-To-Beaver world that I grew up in.

Dharma Kelleher: I hear you. You started writing at age twelve, but what drew you to writing?

Michael Nava: Well, I think that just as some people are born with an aptitude for music or mathematics, I had an aptitude for language. I learned to read quite young, and I loved words. I just loved the sound of them, and I loved how complicated they were, how you could spell “there” in three different ways, the whole idea of synonyms and antonyms. It was very exciting to me.

And so, I think I was destined to be a writer because I had the verbal skills and I had the interest, and I love to read. When I was twelve, I realized I was a queer, which was the only word I had to describe myself. And back then, in 1968, it had not yet been reclaimed.

So, I was filled with all of these thoughts and emotions that I couldn’t express to anyone because I would have been beaten up. So I started writing them down. And that was really the point at which I began this journey as a writer.

Dharma Kelleher: I can definitely relate to a lot of that. You began writing your first novel The Little Death which was later renamed as…

Michael Nava: Lay Your Sleeping Head

Dharma Kelleher: Lay Your Sleeping Head, right. And you wrote that shortly after graduating law school. And it features Henry Rios, who was an openly gay Latino criminal defense lawyer who worked in Los Angeles. What drew you to this character?

Michael Nava: Well, so, I started writing at twelve and so through my teen years into my early twenties and in college particularly, I was a poet and that’s what I wrote. I wrote. I studied. I read. I studied under some really great poets. But then I went to law school and the poetry just dried up.But not the compulsion to write.

So, I thought, I’ll write a novel. And I didn’t want to write that first autobiographical novel that all young writers write, which is pretty self-indulgent. I really wanted to learn how to write fiction, and I remembered mysteries, which I loved reading.

I thought, Oh if I write a mystery, I’ll have to learn how to write. I’ll have to figure out a plot. And I’ll have to figure out characters and dialogue and all of this stuff because the genre really demands that you deliver that, and not just some self-absorbed reflection on your own angst. So I started writing that first book as an exercise to teach myself how to write fiction.

Rios was obviously some kind of alter ego, and it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be gay or that he wouldn’t be Mexican-American. I mean, that was a given. Later, I started in law school, I put it away. And then four years later, I picked it up again.

And at that point I realized that I had this revelation that the private detective of the classic American Noir, the Philip Marlowe’s and the characters like that, they actually can serve as a metaphor for the way that a queer person moves through the culture, because they are also outsiders. They’re despised by respectable society, but they’re also asked to clean up the messes respectable people make.

And so, as such, they have a ringside seat to the dirty laundry and the hypocrisy that goes on beneath those glittering facades. And I thought, Well, that’s just like me. I’m an outsider. I’m despised but… I know oh, the only thing of PIs is like they are actually the honorable people. They’re the ones who have loyalty and integrity and courage. And I thought, Well, I’m despised because I’m a gay man. But I experienced myself as really decent, striving person. And the hatred is irrational.

And I also see the hypocrisies of mainstream society which, for example, claims that gay men are sexual predators or prey on children. At that point, I was a prosecutor in Los Angeles, and I was prosecuting sex abuse cases, and 99% of the sexual predators who prey on children and who commit rapes are straight men. It was this weird projection that straight people were doing.

I thought writing the mystery and having a gay man as the protagonist was a way to kind of flip this genre on its head. Because the other thing about those classic novels, which some of which I love, I mean, I love Raymond Chandler. He’s quite problematic, and the one reason is that for Chandler, gay people, black people, women were like these marginal characters to be mocked. They were part of the underworld. So, to take one of those marginal characters and to make him the center of the mystery was to just sort of turn things on its head.

Dharma Kelleher: Definitely. 

At what point did you come out publicly, because certainly if you’re going to be writing gay fiction and publishing gay fiction, at some point people are going to put two and two together. What was that process like for you?

Michael Nava: Well, so when I was twelve, I acknowledged to myself that I was queer. And I knew at that point that that’s just what it was. And I wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t tell anyone, not because I was ashamed, but because I was afraid.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah, survival.

Michael Nava: I started coming out when I was seventeen, my last year in high school. I told friends. I told the teacher who was my mentor. And I was out in college. And we’re talking the early 70s, right?

Dharma Kelleher: Wow.

Michael Nava: So, I never actually was in the closet. I was out in law school. At Stanford, I was part of what was then called the Gay Liberation Front.

Dharma Kelleher: I remember that.

Michael Nava: Yeah, and I met my first partner when I was twenty-four. We lived together openly. And I was never in the closet as a lawyer. I was always out to my employers. So, it just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t use my name, my real name, while writing these books. I never really had to. I was never in the closet.

Dharma Kelleher: That’s great. What was your experience like trying to find a publisher for a gay mystery novel in the mid 80s?

Michael Nava: So, I sent it to, this was like 1984, 85, I sent it to a dozen big publishers in New York, because those were the days you could actually send manuscripts directly to editors.

Dharma Kelleher: Right without a literary agent.

Michael Nava: It was called sending the books over the transom. And sometimes, they would read them. And I got rejected by all of these big publishers. I got some really nice letters. And they said the same thing, which is, “Yeah, this is a nicely written book, but we can’t sell this.”

Dharma Kelleher: I’m familiar with that sentiment even twenty, thirty, forty years later.

Michael Nava: It’s still very much alive and present.

Dharma Kelleher: Yes. It’s like, “We like this book, but we don’t know how to market it.”

Michael Nava: Well, we’re not going to sell them. Back in 1985, I mean half the states of the union still had sodomy laws. So in half the states of the union, queer people were still criminal.

So there was a small gay publisher in Boston, Alyson Publications, run by a man named Sasha Alyson. And I sent it to them. And they said, “I would love to publish this.” So that’s how I got published on that first book, which didn’t come out in the hardcover. There were only doing trade paper. 

It was reviewed in the New York Times in the New York Times Review, the crime column.

Dharma Kelleher: Really. Wow. That’s great.

Michael Nava: It was the first and only time they ever got a book review in the New York Times. And so that was kind of startling to everyone.

Dharma Kelleher: Absolutely. Kudos to you.

Michael Nava: Well, you know as well as I do that it’s just a lottery.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah it is, but I think those who do get that promotion 99.9% of the time deserve it. It’s not like you just got lucky. You earned it. Your work is worthy of that praise.

Michael Nava: Well, thank you. Years later, I found . . . so at the time Marilyn Stasio is the current mystery reviewer for the Times. Back in the 80s, it was a man who was writing under the pseudonym of Newgate Callendar. And I discovered years later, he was actually a gay man. So we are everywhere. And sometimes we even help each other out a bit.

Dharma Kelleher: You went on to write several other Henry Rios novels and then you stopped writing around 2000. Why the break?

Michael Nava: Well, there’s a long answer and a short answer. The short answer is AIDS. I was writing those books when the epidemic was sweeping through the gay male community. I was living in Los Angeles, which is one of the one of the places where it hit very hard.

By the end of the 90s, I was just I was burned out, emotionally and spiritually. I was very depressed. And I was tired of writing these books dealing with the topic. When we did emerge from the worst of the epidemic for gay men, I thought, Okay, I just can’t do this anymore.

So that was really what was behind it. I never lost interest in Rios, but I just thought, I can’t do this anymore.

So, at that point, I actually moved from LA to San Francisco and focused on my legal career and this historical novel that took me 14 years to write.

Dharma Kelleher: What was your experience like in San Francisco?

Because so often it was described to outsiders as this gay Mecca and yet in going there—not only to the Castro, but similar neighborhoods in certain major cities like in Atlanta, where I was in, there was Midtown, there’s Hillcrest in San Diego. It’s not Shangri-La. It has its seedier side and darker side too. What was your experience of San Francisco like and how did it differ from what you thought it would be?

Michael Nava: So, I never bought into San Francisco as gay male Utopia. And first of all, we’re talking about gay men, right? Not women.

Dharma Kelleher: Right, exactly.

Michael Nava: So that’s the first issue, the first problematic thing about it. But I went to Stanford. I was at Sanford between 78 and 80, so which was kind of the Golden Age apparently. And I found the Castro to be pretty unwelcoming if you weren’t a particular kind of man, if you weren’t a buff white guy, it wasn’t all that welcoming. And I was quite conscious that I wasn’t white and that I didn’t look like the Castro clown. And so my experience at the time was quite mixed. 

And when I came back to it in 1995, I found it hadn’t changed that much except that, well, it had. I mean that AIDS had swept through the community, so there was that. But I mean in terms of diversity, it hadn’t changed that much. It’s just the white guys who were alive were just fifteen years older.

Dharma Kelleher: Right? 

Michael Nava: It’s a paradox that because I jumped from a working-class family to kind of the upper-middle-class world by virtue of becoming a lawyer, I spent most of my life around upper-middle-class white people, but I’ve never felt I was part of that world. Really, I’m not. Yeah, I’m just not.

Dharma Kelleher: Right. You’ve recently returned to the Henry Rio series with Carved in Bone. What brought you back to Henry and why place the story shortly after book one in the series?

Michael Nava: So, like I said, I never really lost interest in Rios, and a couple of things happened. One is that the books were never out of print. And there was this whole new generation of queer and Latinx academicians who started teaching the books in queer studies, Latino studies, and sometimes just in English departments.

And they started writing about him. So, for example, there are three or four books about Latino or queer mystery writers and there are chapters on Rios in all of them. And then Garth wrote this piece in 2015 for the New Yorker about the books.  So I realized that the books are still alive in a way.

And then what happened was, Donald Trump. I mean, I just it occurred to me that a gay Mexican-American protagonist who is the son of immigrants was, if anything, more relevant now than in 1986 when the books were first published, because the lines are so much more clearly drawn now between two visions of America. And I thought, I should bring him back.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned Donald Trump because one of the interesting lines that I liked from Carved in Bone is “Veterans Day 1984. Ronald Reagan, just re-elected president, said it was morning in America. But in San Francisco where I shared the sidewalks with men who looked like the unburied dead, the mourning was altogether different.”

Do you think that there are a lot of parallels between Reagan and Trump? Because Reagan, he was basically ignoring the AIDS crisis and just saying, “No, just let them die.”

Michael Nava: Well, Reagan was, as we say, the smiling face of fascism. Trump is just the ugly face of fascism. But I started writing Carved in Bone the day after the 2016 election and just almost sort of in this blind passion.

And yes, I made the decision to set in 1984 at the beginning of the AIDS crisis for two reasons. First, because actually in the series as it existed, I hadn’t written about that particular moment just because of the way that I wrote the books. I mean the first book I started in 1979 and finished in 84. And so, it’s pre-AIDS. And the second book is set in 1987.

Dharma Kelleher: That’s quite a jump.

Michael Nava: Right? Because that’s when I was writing it in 86. So, I missed that period between 1981 and 1986 in the series. So, the other reason was I wanted to write about a period of time when there were similar feelings and justifiable feelings of hopelessness and despair to remind people that there had been those periods. And the implication was we got through it and in some ways things got better. But also not without enormous losses. So I wanted to make the psychic parallels between what it felt like to be a gay man in 1984 before there was even a test to determine whether you had the virus and to be a queer person, a person of color, an immigrant today. And to feel as we did then that the government’s out to exterminate us.

Dharma Kelleher: Right? I can definitely relate to that. Prior to my coming out as transgender, I was struggling with my identity. We talked about not having terminology and words to describe who we are. And for the longest time, because I didn’t have any positive role models, I thought, “Well, maybe I’m a gay man.”

And so, my first experiences with the queer community were in the gay bars of Atlanta. And it was quite different from the little suburb that I grew up in.

Michael Nava: Yeah. 

Dharma Kelleher: So much of the story, even though it was set at ten, twenty years prior to my own coming out felt very real and very authentic.

When we first meet Rios in this story, he’s newly sober. He’s trying to rebuild his life, and he’s developed a friendship—I want to say relationship, but it’s not a romantic relationship, but it’s a friendship—with his AA sponsor Larry Ross. Could you tell us about Larry and his relationship with Henry?

Michael Nava: Yeah, so in The Little Death, which became Lay Your Sleeping Head, Rios is clearly an alcoholic. And he’s about to crash. He’s about to bottom out. And so I pick him up in this book, and my own experience in recovery, and also the experience of people I’ve known in the twenty-six years I’ve been sober, is that you really don’t do it alone. You need support. And so, I wanted to create for him a figure who helps guide him through the very confusing and emotionally difficult time of early sobriety.

And so, Larry is based on a lot of people I’ve known in recovery who are very loving. They’re compassionate, but they’re no-bullshit guys. 

Dharma Kelleher: Those are the best sponsors to have.

Michael Nava: Exactly because they understand that this is life and death.

Dharma Kelleher: It is.

Michael Nava: It is my job as your sponsor is to keep you from destroying yourself to the extent that I can. So, we writers, we love all of our characters. However, I really, really loved Larry more.

Dharma Kelleher: I did too. He’s not like a super major character in the plot of the story, and yet he is still so crucial. I absolutely fell in love with him as a recovering person myself.

I thought, Boy, I wish my sponsors was as good as he was. I’m actually a little jealous.

Michael Nava: My friend, the lesbian writer Katherine Forrest, read the book and said, “He’s kind of the voice of conscience, of Henry’s conscience externalized.

So, although he’s not important in the plot, he’s crucial to the trajectory of Rios’s development through the plot.

Dharma Kelleher: Absolutely.

Now Henry gets a job investigating life insurance claims because his own legal practice has fallen by the wayside because of his addiction. And he is assigned to investigate the insurance claim on the death of Bill Ryan. And the story basically follows the two men’s journeys. One, Henry investigating the death, and then the other is Bill Ryan. Tell us about Bill Ryan and what inspired you to create his character and his journey.

Michael Nava: Most all the other Rios books are just straight first-person narratives. Carved in Bone actually alternates between the third-person story of Bill Ryan and the first-person narrative of Henry Rios.

And Ryan’s story starts not in 1984, but in 1971 when he comes to San Francisco as an 18-year-old refugee, having been kicked out of his family for being gay. And one thing I wanted to do was to tell the story of that particular generation of gay men who came to San Francisco in the 70s mostly as refugees and who created this very vibrant, whatever else we might think about it, it was very vibrant, and became sort of a politically influential community. It was. In that sense, there had never been anything like it. And then only in the early 80s to see it in the shadow of extermination because of the epidemic.

So, in part, Bill’s story is a story of that generation, and in part, there’s the contrast.

I have one of the characters say in the book, “Being a fag ain’t for sissies.” It’s hard to be hated for something that you are, over which you have no control. So, in a sense, the book is about two responses. One response is to take that on, to overcome it as much as you can and to reject the hatred and to really trust your deepest sense of who you are and your deepest experience of yourself as a good person. And the other response is to become overwhelmed by shame and never, never to be able to get to that place of self-acceptance.

So I’m not going to tell listeners who’s who. But…

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah, exactly. We don’t we don’t want to give away too much right?

Michael Nava: The stories are parallel, but they have different moral outcomes, I would say.

Dharma Kelleher: Exactly.

One of the things I found interesting was the relationship between Bill and Waldo, who takes Bill in as a roommate, and their two different outlooks. Because Bill, he’s still clinging to this desire for a very heteronormative life.

Michael Nava: Yes.

Dharma Kelleher: And Waldo’s of the opinion that, “Hey that’s not for us. That’s the straight world. And that, as queer people, we get to make up our own rules.” 

Michael Nava: Yeah. I think that that was, and has always been, a continuing discussion in the queer community between people who embrace the outlaw status of being queer and see it as a creative way to make their own lives and to make their own way through the world, and people who really never wanted to be outlaws. They want the same thing that their heterosexual brothers and sisters have.

And I don’t judge either of those positions because I understand both of them. Even in the trans community, I know a number of trans male friends, and I know it’s a big discussion there because some of them can pass much more convincingly. What’s it called? Going stealth?

Dharma Kelleher: Going stealth or passing as cisgender.

Michael Nava: Yeah, so I find that a very interesting conversation because it has these parallels with my own experience of being a gay man, where we just want what everyone else has and to have a private life and be left alone versus “No, being gay means something more. It has some kind of spiritual, psychological, cultural meaning that’s not ordinary and that we should embrace and explore that.”

So, Waldo and Bill, they are my characterizations of those two points of view.

Dharma Kelleher: I thought you did that very well because I’ve experienced those conflicts very much myself,  the wanting to be the rebel, the outlaw and living by my own truth. And at the same time, when you do that, it makes it hard to get by, just to have a job in the world.

Michael Nava: It’s tough.

Dharma Kelleher: And so, you have to choose your battles and pick the different parts of your identity that you want to live and how you want to live. 

Michael Nava: Exactly. That’s totally true.

Dharma Kelleher: I’ve seen at least from my perspective the communities evolve a little bit over the decades where both paths are considered valid.

Michael Nava: Yeah, but they do still come into conflict. I mean, it’s interesting with this tendency of Mayor Pete whose last name I still can’t pronounce.

Dharma Kelleher: Buttigieg.

Michael Nava: Yeah, it’s like I’m seeing the guy, I’m seeing the future again between sort of gay men who would like to embrace him, who tend to be middle-upper, middle-class white guys, and then people who are more skeptical, who tend to be people of color, queer people of color. And I think it’s a historic event that a queer person can be taken seriously as a candidate for president.

Dharma Kelleher: Absolutely.

Michael Nava: I personally at this point support Elizabeth Warren.

Dharma Kelleher: I think President Obama had some similar situations where there was talk about “Was he black enough?” Whatever that means to different people. Because he was predominantly raised by his white grandmother and his white mother, and so there was some pushback as “Is he really one of us?” Us referring to people of color, not myself because I’m white.

So when we see someone like Pete Buttigieg, we question, “Is he queer enough? Is he going to really represent our values, our needs, the struggles that we’re going through?” And so, you’re right. It’s still a valid question when someone stands up to speak up for the community.

Michael Nava: And even who gets designated for that, right? I’m not sure that he wanted it necessarily any more than Obama wanted it. But the fact is they are who they are. So, they’re stuck with it. 

Dharma Kelleher: Now one of the places where Henry’s and Bill’s timelines cross is with Nick Trejo, who comes from a very different background. Tell us about Nick.

Michael Nava: So, Nick becomes Bill’s lover, and he’s ten years younger than Bill. So, Bill meets him when he’s an eighteen-year-old, first-year student at San Francisco State. And Nick comes from a very warm and loving and accepting working-class, Mexican-American family.

And so, he doesn’t really have the issues that Bill does about accepting himself, which is one of the reasons that Bill was most attracted to him early on. Also finds him kind of difficult. And for Rios who comes from a not-very-loving, Mexican-American family, he marvels that this can be, really. And it brings up for him his own his memories of his own difficult childhood in relationship with his father.

Because Nick’s father, who’s dead by the time the book starts, really loved Nick and kind of knew Nick was a gay little boy when Nick was playing with dolls. And his father would defend him against his older brothers who picked on him for that.

Dharma Kelleher: What kind of research did you have to do for this book?

Michael Nava: What kind of research?

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah.

Michael Nava: So, I did a fair amount of research, and I spent considerable time in the archives of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society here in San Francisco, because they have this enormous collection of material from ordinary gay men who died during the epidemic.

I spent a lot of time sitting there just reading these journals that these men had written during those years. And it really brought back to me just what I mention in the back of the book. I’m reading this notebook about the ordinariness of how life went on in the shadow of this destructive disease. How I was reading this journal of this one young man, and on one page, he’s in the hospital with pneumocystis and then, ten pages later, he’s at the gym mooning over some cute boy.

And it was important for me to remember that life kind of went on. But then I read it, I re-read Randy Shilts book, and I just read a lot of books about it.

Dharma Kelleher: And The Band Played On.

Michael Nava: Right. That have come out since just to get an overview and to remind myself, what had happened back then.

Dharma Kelleher: Earlier this year you started your own small press, Persigo Press, with the goal of publishing a new edition of the existing Rios novels and adding new novels to the series. What prompted you to start your own imprint?

Michael Nava: I wanted to take control of my work. I’d always been published by, the first two books were published by Sasha Alyson. Then after that, I’ve always been published by New York publishing houses. And I’m grateful for that experience. But you give up a lot. When you sign your book over to any publisher, you’re giving up a lot.

And I just turned sixty-five. Those books are my legacy, because I have no children. And I wanted to take back control over them. I wanted to revise them. And I wanted to control them basically. So that’s why I took back.

Dharma Kelleher: I can totally relate to that. I was really honored to have my first two books published by Alibi, which is an imprint of Penguin Random House.

And then after that, when they decided not to continue the series, I thought, Well, what do I want to do now? And with the rise of self-publishing and ebooks and everything, I thought, Well, let me give it a try. And it’s a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it.

Michael Nava: So, I just attended this three-week intensive workshop in publishing in LA this summer at USC, sponsored by Los Angeles Review of Books, which is this great online journal, because I wanted to learn something about the business. And it was really a great course. I recommend it to anyone who’s doing self-publishing.

But one of the things I learned is that only fifty percent of the books published in the US are published by the big five, which means that half the books sold in this country are published by small presses, academic presses, and independent presses. So, there’s definitely a market share for you and me. But it does mean that we have to wear all the hats, which is interesting. I’ve learned a lot.

Dharma Kelleher: You’ve also started a podcast the Henry Rios Mysteries podcast.

Michael Nava: Right.

Dharma Kelleher: What has that been like? I’m really curious. I just found out about it this morning, and I thought, Wow, I want to listen to this. What has that been like? That must be a whole new learning experience for you.

Michael Nava: Yeah, it was.  It started out with someone saying, “Oh, you should do a podcast.” And I said, “Okay, what’s a podcast?”

So, I listened to–what’s it called? Serial?

Dharma Kelleher: Uh-huh. Right, right.

Michael Nava: And then there was another one, Shit Town. S-Town.  And so those are both long-form narratives. And they were really compelling. And I thought I want to do something like that.

So, I took the first, Lay Your Sleeping Head. I adapted it into an eighteen-episode podcast. I wrote a script. I hired actors. I hired a composer, who did original music and sound effects. I hired the sound designer. I mean, I basically went through my savings.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah, that is no cheap expense.

Michael Nava: No, it was $30,000.

Dharma Kelleher: Wow.

Michael Nava: Yeah and I did it. And I am very happy with what we produced. And it was like a very interesting, although exhausting, experience. But yeah, so it’s an audio drama. It’s not just someone reading the book. It’s actually a radio play.

Dharma Kelleher: That’s great. I always loved those as a kid. There were some Mystery Radio Theater kind of things, and I always enjoyed listening to those.

Michael Nava: Well, I listen to lots of podcasts now and I love them. So that’s what I did. The idea was to do the other books, but I can’t afford to do the other books right now.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah, I can understand that.

Michael Nava: I mean Carved in Bone would be even more ambitious right?

Dharma Kelleher: I’m curious. What is the meaning behind the title Carved in Bone?

Michael Nava: So. There is a poem I quote by the gay poet Thom Gunn, who is a San Francisco poet who’s writing about a friend of his who has AIDS. I forget exactly how it goes. But he says, basically I can see that the disease has carved itself in your body and so “carved in bone” refers to both the physical manifestations of AIDS, because you could see people who are sick. And also, to how the hatred directed toward queer people can also carve itself in our bones.

Dharma Kelleher: Absolutely.

Michael Nava: So that was the significance of the title.

Dharma Kelleher: That’s very profound. I like that. I was very curious about that when I was reading it. That makes a lot of sense.

So, what’s next for you in terms of writing or podcasting or whatever else you have? What do you have coming up next?

Michael Nava: So, because Carved in Bone is now the second book in the series, the book that had been the second book, called Golden Boy, is basically obsolete. So, I’m writing a new Rios novel that connects Carved in Bone to How Town, which is the fourth Rios. It’s a little confusing.

Dharma Kelleher: Yeah, I was wondering, because I was looking online. I thought, Okay, that’s book number one, then this is Book two and then wait, wait, How Town was book four. And where’s book three? Is it Golden Boy? I totally understand that stories evolve over time. 

Michael Nava: Right, they do. So right now, I’ve got the third book in mind. It’s called Lies with Man. And so, I need to get started on that.

Dharma Kelleher: Interesting.

Michael Nava: And then once I fill in that gap, I do want to write another Rios book that’s set more or less in the present. I want to bring him up to date. And I already have that book plotted. But at the same time, The City of Palaces was supposed to be one of a trilogy. So, I’ve also got the second book of that series that I’ve got to write that at some point.

One of the reasons I started Persigo Press, I wanted to publish other queer writers, especially writers of color. So that’s kind of on the back burner because having gone to this course, I realize I don’t really have the capital to do that right now. But it’s still an aspiration to publish other writers. Yeah, the sands are running out on that.

Dharma Kelleher: Well, thank you so much for taking your time to be on the show.

Michael Nava: Oh, thank you so much for the conversation. I really appreciate it.

Dharma Kelleher: Our guest today has been Michael Nava, author of the award-winning Henry Rios mystery series. His latest book Carved in Bone was published by Persigo Press on October 1st. You can find more about Michael by going to michaelnavawriter.com.

On a personal note, the e-book for my next novel, A Broken Woman is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kobo and other retailers.

It is the third book in my Jinx Ballou Bounty Hunter series and will be released on December 10th. 

I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Gritty Gritty, highlighting OwnVoices in crime fiction. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, or Google podcasts. And please leave a review.

The Gritty Gritty is an audio production of Dark Pariah Press based in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m Dharma Kelleher. You can learn more about me and my work at DharmaKelleher.com. Thank you for listening.