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Monday, August 22, 2011

Visiting with Prolific Author/Writer, Joseph R.G. DeMarco and His New Book, Murder on Camac

I grew up in South Philadelphia, which was the Little Italy of Philadelphia at the time. The Godfather could just as easily have taken place here as in New York. That part of the city still retains some of its Italian flavor, but recent years have seen great changes there. The diversity in the area, with the influx of new groups, is wonderful and means that South Philly will remain vital. I am eager to see just how the neighborhood will work its changes on the new arrivals and how much they will change the tone of that area. Growing up there definitely gave me a certain perspective on life, as did my Italian roots. It shows up in my work and in choices I make in some of that work.

My Catholic school education gave me yet another way to look at the world.  I can never forget the priests and nuns who were a major influence in my formative years. Of course, the Church itself made a lasting impression and maybe that is why my first mystery novel, Murder on Camac, centers around a years-old controversy in Papal history.

After university and an almost PhD in PoliSci/International Relations, I went into teaching for a while. I decided that I wanted something different and returned to school for a second Master’s Degree in Information Science. That led me to work as the head librarian in a prep school, which was an education in itself. I had always had respect for librarians, but never so much as after I had begun working as one.

Coming out was another major event which gave me yet another perspective on life and the world. Things are still difficult for people even now, so I feel privileged being able to live honestly and authentically and to be able to work for improvements in the community at large. The writing I do has most definitely influenced by this aspect of my life.

My training as a writer went on concurrently with all the other education and beyond that. That training is a combination of formal lessons and workshops and “on the job” learning. I have studied writing at various universities and in private workshops. I have improved my playwriting skills at different theater schools – one notable institution; the HB Studio in New York was a stunningly wonderful experience. I have also had the good fortune to have been invited to participate in serious workshops such as the Prague Summer Writing workshop (which may have a different name these days). Spending several weeks in that city learning at the feet of great writers was something I will never forget.

All along the way I kept writing and getting published in a variety of newspapers and magazines including: The New York Native, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Gay News (PGN), The Welcomat, KLIATT, Chroma, Il Don Gennaro (a national Italian-American magazine), and a number of other publications. I also worked as a columnist for The Advocate, In Touch, and Gaysweek.

In 2004, I took the reins at Mysterical-E (a magazine dedicated to mystery and the mysterious) which had already been around for about nine years. The first issue under my editorship was launched in March 2005 and we have been publishing quarterly ever since at

Though my literary tastes are varied, I tend toward mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and other genres. I do read more widely than that, however, including literary fiction and plenty of other forms. Right now, however, I am steeped in research for a book and will be doing some nonfiction reading. I enjoy history, especially material having to do with people and events that are not as widely known but often more significant than some we know well.

Tell us about the genre of your work. 

Both my most recent works A Body on Pine and Murder on Camac are mysteries. I do write in other genres as well as doing some nonfiction, but these latest works are in the mystery category. They take place in Philadelphia and feature a gay detective who has a complicated life.
I have also edited an anthology that came out June, called A Study in Lavender, and are tales set in the world of Sherlock Holmes with a gay twist.

Why did you choose this genre?

My reading and writing tastes run the gamut from science fiction and fantasy to the various subgenres of each (especially alternate history and time travel) to mystery. Since I was a kid mysteries have fascinated me. Maybe, I chose it, because there is something mysterious at the center of everything. There is usually something that we have to dig for and strive to understand before things make sense.

Secrets, things done in the shadows, plots conceived in back rooms all have consequences that may or may not have been anticipated. People are affected, crimes are committed, and this inevitably sets in motion a search for what is really going on and why.

Mystery novels begin with a world out of order (or soon to be thrown into chaos), with people in need of someone to set things right by finding the truth and delivering justice or what may pass for justice. The detective or sleuth often has to go to some dark places to find that truth and some of those places are within himself. I like the idea of making order out of chaos, of turning over hidden things to get at the Truth, of seeking justice, of being able to comment on things around you through the eyes of the characters.

There is a lot of satisfaction in coming upon a situation and being able to do something to make it right, or at least to stitch things back together so that not everything is lost. That is the role of the sleuth, whether he or she is a private investigator, a police officer, or an amateur sleuth. They are people driven by the search for the truth, by a need to set things right, and by a desire to make the world whole again, even if it is only their small part of the world.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

Some my stories that have been anthologized are:

“Great Uncle Ned” appears in Charmed Lives, it is a ghost story and one of which I am particularly fond.

Scars” was included in Heat of the Moment, and was published in e-format in May.
“Adventurous Italian” in Men Seeking Men, is based on something that happened to me but it is embellished, of course.

More stories of mine, “Enthralled” “Arriverderci” and “Model Behavior” appear in each of the three volumes of the Quickies series.

My essays have been published in anthologies including Gay Life (Doubleday), Hey Paisan!(Guernica), Paws and Reflect (Alyson), Queer and Catholic(Taylor & Francis), and others.

Being a serious student of sociological issues, my work is published in a variety of academic venues including an article in The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family (Macmillan, 2002), two articles in the Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinites (ABC_CLIO) and articles in The Journal of Homosexuality (Haworth),  The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, and others.

My article, “Gay Racism,” which first appeared in PGN, won the Best Feature writing award from the Gay Press association, and was subsequently anthologized in We Are Everywhere, Black Men White Men, and Men’s Lives. 

Could you tell us more about your books, and where they may be found.

A Body on Pine (ISBN: 978-1590213452) or at

When Marco Fontana enters his friend's spa on Pine, he does not find the peaceful retreat he expected. Brad, the masseur, is missing. The spa is splattered with blood and a dead client lies sprawled on the floor. After a thorough search turns up more questions than answers, Marco calls the police. They find Brad's body a short distance from the spa and before long Marco understands that what appears to be a simple case of murder is anything but. The police want Marco off the case. However, when the body of a popular journalist is added to the death toll, Brad's case is sidelined. Marco refuses to allow his friend's death to be ignored and convinces an overwhelmed young police detective to bring Marco into the hunt for the killer. He finds plenty to keep him busy. Abusive ex-boyfriends, stalker clients, politicians, scheming businessmen, and Eastern European mobsters swirl together in a dangerous mix, which finds Marco in some of the most serious trouble he is encountered so far. Life at home does not stop for Marco, either. While he searches for Brad's killer, Marco's stripper troupe, StripGuyz, brings him face to face with a stripper's abusive boyfriend and, with Jean-Claude, a new member of the troupe who innocently comes between Marco and Anton, upsetting the fragile balance existing between them.

Murder on Camac (ISBN: 978-1590212134)
When author Helmut Brandt is killed in an apparent mugging, Brandt’s partner, who suspects this was premeditated murder, hires P.I. Marco Fontana. Brandt's work on the death of Pope John Paul I angered people in and out of the Church and made him more than a few enemies. His death happens soon after Brandt claims to have incontrovertible new evidence implicating people never before suspected. Fontana does not believe in coincidences and takes the case. A former Catholic himself, he knows that uncovering Brandt's killer means more than exposing a thirty-year old plot to kill the Pope: it could also ruin the people named in the documents Brandt is supposed to have. Of course, if Brandt's enemies have killed once over this information, they will not hesitate to murder a P.I. who gets too close to the truth. Entering the arcane world of the Catholic Church, Fontana encounters forces determined to keep him from getting to the truth.

Camac_street --- Camac is the Street where
the murder in Murder on Camac took place.
 One of the beautiful, tree-lined "tiny" streets
 in the Center City area of Philly.
Though he manages to gain access to the upper levels of the Archdiocesan hierarchy, Fontana realizes that the web of power and deceit is every bit as intricate, tangled, and deadly as he imagined. As the owner of StripGuyz Fontana, which has a troupe of male strippers, is no stranger to the seamier parts of the Philadelphia gayborhood. However, in this case, he finds that there is an even murkier side to life in the city of Brotherly Love.
You can find my website at:

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

I think most writers consider finding the right names an important part of creating each character, even the minor ones. After all, you put a lot of work into bringing a character to life in every aspect, so the name is more than just a pretty finishing touch. It says something about the character and who he or she is. Naming my characters takes a long time and often changes as the work progresses. I do a lot of research into names, the cultures they come from, the era in which they are most prominent, and more. For me, a character’s name means something beyond the supposed meanings of the names themselves. It has to be right and sometimes, in the middle of a book, I realize that a character has a name that does not really fit for any number of reasons. So the search commences again and a new name is found.

Sometimes this causes small problems that ripple through the manuscript – like making sure every instance of the name is changed or that nicknames match the new name. However, those things are small when you know you have the right name for that character.

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?

Marco Fontana was with me for a long time before he took form on paper. In fact, apropos of the question above, Marco used several names before I realized his name was Marco Fontana. I will not go into all of the names but suffice to say they were all great; they just were not his name.
It took a while discovering who Marco is as a person. I hardly knew Marco when he showed up a long while back. I only knew that he was a character I wanted to know more about. I wanted to know what kinds of life he had and what kinds of adventures he would get into. I knew I wanted to write mysteries, what I did not know was that Marco would be at the heart of them. Maybe he knew that before I did. Whatever the case, he hung around until I noticed him and discovered what a wonderfully interesting person he is and how exciting he could be. He is still evolving and revealing himself, like any person. Each work in which he appears shows a different facet of his personality or deepens other things about him.

What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
The antagonists in my Marco Fontana mysteries are all different. Each new book or story brings another antagonist front and center along with a new set of problems. Often they play off things about Marco or his life and help to reveal more about him as a person while they place themselves in the spotlight as well.

The idea of a recurring nemesis is appealing and that may develop at some point in the series.
Marco does have a longstanding problem, which is a nemesis of sorts. It is a case he has never been able to solve and it nags at him. That case is always on his mind and at some point; he will get to tackling it. Whether he will solve it or not is open to question. I know he wants to.

What is your favorite thing about your book?

I suppose there are two things, the characters and the world they live in. I see it and feel it. I know it well and not just because it is based on Philadelphia. I know it because I have remade the city in some ways to include some of the things I want to see here. There are places and institutions I have placed here in Center City Philadelphia which do not exist (yet) but which should. These places, like the fabulous gym complex, Olympus, do not change the character of the city. They grow naturally from what the city is, from the city’s character, and from what it could/should be like if money and vision converged.

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genres?

Every genre has its conventions. You do not have to adhere to all of them but readers stick with a genre because they like what it has to offer.

Though mystery is not the only area in which I write, it is a major part of my writing life, and so I think in terms of mystery and the mysterious in just about anything I do. Let us face it, everything either has some mystery to it or would be better if it did.

We never know everything about anyone, even our closest friends, even our relatives. Bingo! Mystery. We never know all the intricate details of every place we visit, every institution we deal with. Again, bingo! Mystery.

In some ways all genres have, if not a mystery to solve, a certain tension or question which the readers’ want answered. Will the protagonist reach his/her goal? Will the antagonist win? Will any number of subplots come to a satisfactory resolution? All, in their way, questions that the reader wants answered.

Why and when did you begin writing?

Telling a story has always been important to me. I grew up around some amazing storytellers and often met people who could also tell stories, including my late partner. They had family tales to tell, tales that were legends and family myths and they told them with verve. Of course, growing up Italian, life is drama, an operatic drama at times. Therefore, you cannot help but absorb not only the stories and the drama, but also the need to tell those stories.

I have also always had rich and colorful dreams and fantasies. I guess you could call me a daydreamer. These were fed by reading and television. I loved immersing myself in the world different authors created. I knew that I wanted to be able to create fantastic worlds, mysterious situations, epic tales, and more, just like my favorite authors.

What is your writing schedule?

Don’t ask. (But you did, so I guess I should say something.) I am best on a deadline. It focuses the mind. So, I try to give myself deadlines over and above the deadlines I have from publishers and from the magazine I run. When on deadline, I try to set aside as much time as I can to do research, to write, and to revise. Even just having a goal without a deadline is a good way to focus and work. There is something to reach for and achieve.

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I am just finishing the edits on the anthology I mentioned: A Study in Lavender.

At the same time, I am working on a number of projects: two of them are the third Marco Fontana mystery, and a book that will come out between the second and third Fontana books, which is a collection of tales or early Fontana investigations, including some tales that show how he became Marco Fontana, P.I.

There are other projects, which are being planned and researched and some of which I have already started writing.

What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and be published?

The best advice: Read and Write, then submit what you write, then read and write some more.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

Have patience when you send things to publishers.
Follow guidelines and do not second-guess publishers and editors.
What do you do when you are not writing?  

Are there times when a writer is not writing? I don’t really think so. Every step we take, every place we visit, and each person we interact with are all stored in memory. Whatever we read, watch, or hear all become a part of us, and eventually a part of what we create.

So, really, I am never not writing. I am always thinking about writing, characters, or situations, about plots and twists and turns. However, when I’m not actually at my computer, I’m reading, researching, making notes, watching TV, taking walks, dining out, being with friends. 

Two important things are reading and researching.

Reading is an important part of being a writer, so I try to set some time each day for reading. I sometimes have to tell myself to just read and enjoy but that is not always the case. I am sure all writers notice that their reading habits change as they grow and the way they read changes as well. I find myself reading with a different sensibility: as an editor and as a writer trying to learn something about writing and style.

When I was a child, I was a voracious reader. I read for the sheer joy of entering another world and time. I lost myself on other planets and in other timelines. I spent time in English manor houses trying to puzzle out murders and on starships exploring the galaxy. Those were wonderful times, some warm and comforting moments. Just my books and me. I remember curling up in cozy spots around the house and immersing myself in the world of the books I was reading. There were not too many distractions and I could easily drift into the world each author created. I realize now that I was reading with joy and not as a practitioner of the art.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

There are many moments like that. All the significant events in anyone’s life can be “made it” moments but for me there is one kind of moment that surpasses them all.

The usual moments for me include things like becoming an Eagle Scout. That was an achievement for a nonathletic kid such as I was. I had to do some athletic things I never expected I could, and some non-athletic thing I never thought I would. As they pinned that medal on my chest, I experienced a “made it” moment.

Holding my first mystery, Murder on Camac, in my hands, feeling the weight of the book and remembering all the work that had gone into it, and knowing that it was a reality, that was a “made it moment.”

When I graduated from Information Science school and had an unexpected job waiting for me, that was a “made it” moment. I worked hard at that degree, having gone back to school after teaching for some years. I took more courses than required and learned every aspect of the field. Marching down that aisle, I knew I had achieved something.

When I wrote an article for the local gay newspaper about racism in the gay community, it was nominated for a national award. My article was competing against some of the biggest names in gay publishing at the time. These were journalists with reputations. I felt I had no chance and decided it was not worth attending the awards ceremony. I later received an excited call from my editor that I had won. That article went on to be anthologized in three different collections. Definitely a “made it” moment.

The Gay Community Center
I helped found and which sits in the middle
 of the neighborhood
 where the action in
A Body on Pine takes place.
Of course, when various things I wrote got published: my first op-ed piece in a major newspaper, my first short story in an anthology, my first article in a nonfiction collection, the first time my work was placed in an encyclopedia. These were all “made it” moments. I am sure when I get the copies of my latest, A Body on Pine, that will be another “made it” moment.

After all the other made it moments, there are special ones that mean the most to me and which I never talk about.

Murder on Camac (ISBN: 978-1590212134)

A Body on Pine (ISBN: 978-1590213452) or at

Find out more about this author.


Joe DeMarco said...

Hi Sylvia,

Thanks for this wonderful opportunity to appear on your blog.

Joe DeMarco

Joe DeMarco said...

Hi Sylvia,

Thanks for this wonderful opportunity to appear on your blog.

Joe DeMarco

Kaye George said...

Thanks for the interview! You co-founded a community center? That's awesome, Joe. Congrats on your long an successful writing career, and on Mysterical-E, one of the best ezines out there.

C. Zampa said...

Joseph, it is so good to see you, and to learn about you!

I love the behind-the-scenes facts of your stories! And I look forward to reading something of yours!

Joe DeMarco said...

Thanks for the comments and thanks for taking a look at the interview. It was a lot of fun to do.