Award-Winning Author of Slow-Burn Romances between Strong Women

Interview with lesbian mystery author Ann Aptaker

Today’s interviewee is Ann Aptaker, who just had her debut novel, Criminal Gold, published with Bold Strokes Books. Criminal Gold is a crime/mystery adventure novel set in 1949.

Let’s start with some warm-up questions:

Chocolate or cookies?

Well, I love chocolate passionately, but I’ll have to go with cookies, since chocolate doesn’t love me, which is a serious romantic disappointment, yes? I cheat sometimes, have a little chocolate, but if I have one bite too much, I pay for it the next day. Drat!

E-books or paperbacks?

I don’t own a reader or tablet yet, still out of my financial league I’m afraid, but I’ve recently downloaded the Kindle app on my laptop, so I’m just now getting ready to try e-books. If I had a reader or tablet, I could be seriously addicted; the efficiency is undeniable. But I have to fess up and admit that I’m one of those who’d miss the feel and smell of real books. Plus, I do a lot of my reading-for-pleasure as bedtime reading, and after a day of working at the computer, the last thing in the in the world I want to do is to look at yet another screen. The bedside lamplight illuminating the words on the paper is much more soothing at bedtime.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

No way I’ll choose one over the other! Love ’em both! Take us out, Mr. Sulu…Engage…and may The Force be with us. Wink

Beach or mountains?

Seashore, definitely seashore. And all the seafood I can stuff into my mouth. Second to living here in my much loved hometown of New York, a little shanty by the sea would be heaven.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing?

A little about myself: well, I’m a native New Yorker who’s also lived briefly in Florida and San Francisco. And though each has its wonderful qualities (great weather in both, good food, wonderful seashores, and, in SF, much LGBTQ cultural and political power), they just can’t compare to my extraordinary hometown. So I came running home to New York, where life is a financial struggle but the cultural and creative riches are boundless.

So, what does that say about me? I guess it says that I’m a city-slicker to the core; that the presence of so much writing and other top-notch cultural talent in this city helps keep me sharp; that living in walking distance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art matters to me so that I can swoon over their Greek art collections and early 20th Century stuff (can’t get enough of John Singer Sargent:  is “Madame X” delicious or what?); that I love great theater on or off Broadway and go whenever budget allows, which isn’t often enough; I love movies, so I’m addicted to Netflix (and also addicted to Orange is the New Black); also addicted to Downton Abbey (can’t wait ‘til it starts again here in the States in January!); and last (and probably least) I’m currently single. I guess that’s about it.

When I’m not writing, I –

-work on getting my lectures ready for the classes I teach at New York Institute of Technology (Art History, Exhibition Design);

-write art related materials for various clients (galleries, artists, etc.);

-write other freelance stuff (was hired to edit/re-write a treatment for a proposed TV show).

So I guess I’m always writing! Even when I take my deliciously long walks through the city, I’m writing in my head, especially the book I’m currently working on, the second in the Criminal Gold series.

Please tell us about your journey in becoming a published writer. What challenges did you face when you published your first book? How did you come to publish with Bold Strokes Books?

Getting my early short stories published wasn’t particularly difficult. In fact, the first story I ever submitted for publication, a hard boiled tale called “The Sweetness at the Crummy End of Town,” was accepted right way by Michael Bracken, who was the editor of the “Fedora” crime anthology series (which has since met a much lamented demise…sigh…such are the financial vicissitudes of the publishing game.   Michael was/is a true gentleman of literary crime). It wasn’t a lesfic story, but the two main characters in next story he accepted for the Fedora series, “Her Game,” were lesbians, very much out. The early success of these stories spoiled me for all the rejection that came later, when I submitted my novel. It seems I didn’t have a golden aura around my head after all! It took forever, two agents (the first, retired; the second, come and gone, though it wasn’t a bitter breakup), glowing rejections from publishers (but no sale is no sale, even when it comes with ultimately useless praise) and an abiding faith in my work (call it arrogance, call it chutzpah) to stay with it. Needless to say, I’m glad I did. Criminal Gold found a home at Bold Strokes Books, where it (and its author) are treated with respect, and benefits from the wisdom of the highly professional staff, especially my extraordinary editor, Ruth Sternglantz. Ruth definitely “gets” what I’m trying to do with this book and its protagonist, the criminal Cantor Gold.

How did you come up with the idea for Criminal Gold?

Y’know, I’m not really sure “how” I came up with this book. The character of Cantor Gold has been running around in my head for a long time. I’d written a previous story about her while I was living in San Francisco and taking a Mystery Writing course taught by Shelley Singer, author of Blackjack, featuring the fabulous Rica Marin (now there’s a dyke to be reckoned with!) In addition to being a marvelous writer, Shelley is a wonderful teacher, and she unlocked everything for me on the very first day of class! From that day on, Cantor became alive on the page, and her story evolved. Eventually, I made the move back to New York, where Criminal Gold came to fruition. It really had to be written here. The city is part of Cantor.

How much and what kind of research did you do for Criminal Gold?

Since the story takes place in 1949, I had to do a considerable amount of research. Much of my time was spent in the microfilm room of the New York Public Library (reading 1949 newspapers—New York had 7 daily papers then!), the New York City Archives, whose collection of New York City photographs is unsurpassed, and the New York Historical Society Library for general information. I also read (and still do) lots of books on general New York history, crime history, and even entertainment history, all of them elements of Cantor’s world. But I also spoke to a lot of people. The World War Two generation is still around (but leaving us day by day, sadly), and they remember the post-war years in New York rather well. So I got a lot of information, especially the more colorful sort, from personal reminiscences. Listening to them speak, and remembering how my own family spoke, their accents, expressions, slang, etc., gave me a sense of how New York sounded then.

What would you say is the most important theme in Criminal Gold, and what personal meaning does that theme have for you? 

As with any good yarn, there’s more than one theme woven through it, but for me (and Cantor), the most important theme of the book and her life is the idea of Freedom. In 1949, and really only until very recently, it was quite dangerous to live openly as a gay or lesbian person, especially if you were a butch dyke or a femme male. Cantor insists on living openly, thus taking her Freedom, which is a very different idea than simply winning her “Rights.” Rights are things given; Freedom is something lived. To me, Freedom and Rights, though they have much on common, are not the same thing.

How long did it take you to write Criminal Gold?

While I was employed full time, I worked on the book on-and-off for about two years. But when I left my full time curatorial job to work only part time (teaching) and freelance gigs, I wrote more consistently and with deeper focus, and finished it in about a year.

How do you find enough time to write, even though you have a day job? Any tips for how to be productive as a writer who can’t write full time?

As an Adjunct faculty member, I’m only in the classroom two days a week, though there’s prep-time for each class. Still, other than classroom days, my working schedule is mine to set, and as long as I meet my obligations to school and my freelance clients, I am then free to devote whole chunks of time to writing.

Now, having said all that, there’s the issue of financial stability, which I definitely do not have. There are some very scary days/weeks/months in my life. But my full-time career as a curator meant long days, often seven days a week when preparing an exhibition, and generally left me too exhausted to write when I got home, which was often late and after a long commute. So I had to make a decision: do I want to write, or do I want to curate? A management and policy change at the museum where I worked provided the trigger: I didn’t go along with the new policy and management, and I decided it was time to get out and follow my own dream, not facilitate someone else’s. I’ve never regretted it. Though my life is financially tough, it is creatively alive, which I value more than anything.

So I’m not sure what tips I can give about being a productive writer; everyone’s situation and needs are different. But writing takes commitment, so I guess to be a productive writer, you have to commit to it, each in their own way.

What’s your favorite scene in Criminal Gold?

Wow, a favorite scene. Well, I don’t think I can pick a single favorite, but I suppose three could qualify. Since the book just launched, I don’t want to give the game away before people have a chance to read it, but I’ll say that in one of the scenes, Cantor becomes aware of the true feelings of someone important in her life. It’s a very subtly revealed moment, but it has deep emotional implications for Cantor, turns everything she thought was true inside out. Another scene, a bit earlier, is a meeting between Cantor and the city’s major Crime Lord on the terrace of his penthouse. It’s a seesaw act between the two of them.  And the third is the very last one of the book, which I won’t give away at all! The reason that last scene is among my favorites, is because it actually wrote itself. I had another ending in mind, but as the words came, I felt like I had no control over it, the story had completely taken over. The book had to end the way it did. The story essentially told me to get the hell out of its way.

Which scene in Criminal Gold was hardest for you to write?

That first, subtle one, was the hardest. The relationship between Cantor and this other character is highly complex, and becomes even more complex as a result of that subtle moment when Cantor learns the truth, when her whole history turns upside down.

If there would have been Starbucks in 1949, what sort of coffee would Cantor Gold, the main character in Criminal Gold, order? Black coffee? Soy-sugar-free-non-fat-vanilla latte? Double chocolate chip Frappuccino with whipped cream and chocolate sauce? Something else?

Strong black coffee, no milk, no sugar, no nonsense.

What projects are you working on right now?

Most of my creative time is spent writing the next book in the series, which I’m proud to say Bold Strokes has accepted for publication (yay!) But I’m also partnering with the wonderful composer Jody Gray on what we hope will be a Broadway musical in the not tooooooooo distant future. He’s writing the music, I’m writing the script, an adaption of an Oscar Wilde short story.

Yeah, I’m a writer. Finally.

Thank you for that great interview, Ann, and best of luck with Criminal Gold and your future writing endeavors!

Readers, if you have questions or feedback for Ann, please leave a comment. You can also reach Ann via Twitter or Facebook. For now, Criminal Gold is available at Bold Strokes, but starting on November 18, it will also be available at several other online bookstores.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!


The Romance Bet by Jae

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5 thoughts on “Interview with lesbian mystery author Ann Aptaker”

  1. Fascinating interview. Thanks both of you. “Criminal Gold” is now on my reading list – accompanied by a strong black coffee, no milk, no sugar, no nonsense!


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