Lisa: We’re so pleased to welcome author Michael Nava to The Novel Approach today to celebrate the upcoming release of Lay Your Sleeping Head (formerly The Little Death), book one in the Henry Rios Mystery Series.
Welcome, Michael. Let’s start with the introductions. Will you tell us a bit about yourself?
Michael: Well, I’m a third generation Californian, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, and the first member of my family to attend college. I knew I was gay when I was 12 and starting coming out when I was 17. I started writing around the same time. I have a law degree from Stanford and I practiced law for 35 years while also writing novels. In addition to the seven Rios novels, I wrote an historical novel about the beginning of the Mexican Revolution called The City of Palaces (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) and co-authored a book about gay rights called Created Equal (St. Martin’s Press 1994). I’m very happily married and I divide my time between San Francisco and Palm Spring.
Lisa: What precipitated the long break from writing, and what has inspired you to resume writing the Henry Rios series? Why does now feel like the right time to do so?
Michael: The last Rios novel was published in 2000 but I continued to write. I worked on The City of Palaces which took me almost 13 years to complete. At the same time, I was very involved as a lawyer in working to diversify the bar and judiciary in California which meant serving on commissions, writing a law review article, giving speeches and mentoring college and law students.
The Rios novels have only been available as e-books, but my e-book publisher retained the print rights. I finally got those rights back and decided to put out a new print edition because some of us also like to read print as well as e-books. I also wanted to write an essay for each book about what inspired the particular story and what was going on in the world and the gay community and in my own life when I wrote it because my books are sometimes taught in colleges and university and I thought that history might be interesting to students.
I only meant to go through and copy edit the books, but I re-read the first one and ended up completely re-writing it for two reasons. One, I’m a much better writer now than I was at 25 when I started writing that book and two, having written a series of books – which I hadn’t planned to do at the beginning – I now had a better idea of Rios’s character and motivations and what would become of him. So I treated the published book as a first draft of the first chapter of a single novel in seven parts. The revised work was so different, I thought it deserved a new title to signal that it is a very different version of the story.
Lisa: Will all the currently published books be re-titled? And if so, do you have a timeline for their release?
Michael: The second novel in the series will be re-titled but I don’t know about the other five yet. It depends on how extensively I revise them. Depending on the reception to Lay Your Sleeping Head, I hope to get out the revised editions every 6 to 9 months and then, when that’s done, write an eighth book in the series, which would open 15 years after the last book ended.
Lisa: If you were to give us a thumbnail sketch of Henry, what would you tell us about the sort of man he is?
Michael: He is someone who identifies with outsiders and as an outsider even though, as a lawyer, he is also part of the legal system. He is a rescuer of wounded people – his clients and others – frequently at the expense of not taking care of himself. He is outraged by injustice but retains a somewhat cynical sense of humor that keeps him from being unbearably self-righteous. He is passionate but also controlled. If he is a hero, he is very much a flawed one.
Lisa: Did you consciously, or, perhaps, unconsciously, write any parts of yourself into Henry’s character? How would you say he’s most like and unlike you?
Michael: Sure. Writing is like dreaming, all the characters are in some sense the author’s just as all the characters in a dream are projections of the dreamer.
I’d say what we most have in common is our identification with and as outsiders even though, like Rios, I worked on the inside as a lawyer; as a prosecutor in LA and then as a staff attorney at the California Supreme Court writing opinions for judges. It’s hard not to identify with the downtrodden when that’s where you come from no matter how far you’ve traveled since. Impossible to be my age, 62, to be gay and Mexican-American and not to know viscerally what injustice feels like.
We are least alike temperamentally. I’m a lot less passionate than he is. It’s that writerly detachment that comes from a lifetime of being an observer.
Lisa: Of the seven books currently published in the series, is there one in particular you’d credit as a favorite to write? If so, which book and why?
Michael: The first two were the most fun to write because I didn’t know what I was doing! It was just the pure child-like joy of making things up. Now I read them and groan. As we get better at any skill, it becomes less play and more work. That’s been my experience as a writer. It’s like the Zen saying: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.
Lisa: As a writer just starting out, to whom would you have given credit as your major influence(s) as a mystery writer? What do you admire about them?
Michael: My biggest influence was Joseph Hansen, a wonderful writer whose Dave Brandstetter series involved a gay insurance investigator. Joe’s books gave me the permission I needed to write the Rios books. Without him, my books would not exist.
Lisa: When you have a moment to read, whose books are you most likely to pick up? What makes them a favorite?
Michael: For mysteries, I like English writers especially Reginald Hill’s Daziel-Pascoe series. I generally read non-fiction, mostly history and biography because I’ve always been a history nerd. I also read my friends’ books, of course. I’m always good for a blurb!
Lisa: If you could sit down to dinner with any author, past or present, with whom would you most like to share a meal? What sorts of questions would you ask?
Michael: You know, I think the young Agatha Christie must have been a very interesting character. I would like to know what inspired this outwardly conventional English woman to write about murder and to create a genre, something very few writers can lay claim to.
Lisa: Thank you so much for spending some time with us today, Michael. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Will you tell us where we can find you on the internet?
Michael: Thank you for much for the opportunity, Lisa. I do have a website but the easiest way to connect with me is through my FB page, Michael Nava Writer.
About the Book
TITLE: Lay Your Sleeping Head
AUTHOR: Michael Nava
PUBLISHER: Kórima Press
PROJECTED PUBLICATION: December 2016
LENGTH: 272 Pages
BLURB: Thirty years ago, The Little Death introduced Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer who became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series.
In a brilliant reimagination of The Little Death, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head.
Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junky struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university.
Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.
About the Author
MICHAEL NAVA is the author of an acclaimed series of seven novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios which won six Lambda Literary Awards. In 2000, he was awarded the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in LGBT literature. The New York Times review of the last Rios novel called him “one of our best.” His most recent novel, The City of Palaces, was published in 2014 by the University of Wisconsin Press. The City of Palaces was a finalist for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for best gay novel and was awarded the 2014 International Latino Literary Award for best novel. His new novel Lay Your Sleeping Head, a reimagining of the first Henry Rios novel published 30 years ago, will appear in fall 2016 from Kórima Press.