Snowball in Hell



By coincidence, I spent the afternoon re-editing Snowball in Hell, a historical mystery I wrote a couple of years ago and recently resold to Carina Press as the first book in the new Doyle and Spain series. The story is actually set at Christmastime — Christmas 1943 — and when Erastes’ gentle reminder that I had a blog due arrived, I was scanning the scenes set at the holiday. After I unpeeled myself from the ceiling, I recognized a fortuitous coincidence.

Snowball in Hell is one of my personal favorites. It’s not just that I think I did some of my best writing there — although, on reflection, I sort of think I did — it’s more that I somehow managed to recreate the mood and setting of the time period so that even I can enjoy it. That’s rare, believe me. I can’t bear to read my own stuff. It makes me cringe. This story is the exception, and I think it’s because of the research that went into it. Today, glancing through the copyedits, it was almost like reading someone else’s work.

As I read, I was vividly reminded of that now long ago time when I wrote strictly for my own pleasure — when the idea of an audience rarely occurred and wouldn’t have swayed a single decision in my storytelling. Now days I earn my living as a writer and I can’t write simply and solely for my own pleasure (even if it does seem that way to those tired of the motifs and themes that obsess me).

I recall that researching this novella was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my writing career because I buried myself for nearly a week in the films and literature of the period. I always like research, but I have to admit the research for Snowball in Hell was particularly enjoyable. The idea of doing a whole series set in the 40s is heady stuff. I might never turn my DVD player off long enough to write a word.

Anyway, here’s a snippet from Snowball in Hell.

When they got back to the lodge, they had a drink in the hotel bar with the other guests—there were only a handful, and most of them had been coming to the lodge to celebrate Christmas for years. They were a pleasant enough bunch.

Matt excused himself after a while and commandeered Mrs. Hubbard’s office to make a few phone calls.

Nathan finished his drink, made small talk with some of the other guests, and then they all went to eat Christmas dinner served in the dining room. Several tables had been pushed together and covered with red tablecloths. There were candles in polished brass holders and a basket of holly with bright red berries for a centerpiece.

Matt joined them about the time they were all finishing up their soup. He sat across from Nathan in the wide square of tables. Nathan tried hard not to watch Matt too much, but when he wasn’t watching Matt he could feel Matt looking at him.

The food was as good as anything before the war—real turkey, stuffing with chestnuts, mashed potatoes and gravy. The yams, corn, green beans and pumpkin for the pie probably came from the hotel victory garden, but Nathan couldn’t imagine how they’d managed to come up with the rest of the feast. Hoarded ration books? Black market? He ate more in one go than he could remember consuming in years.

Listening to the others talking about the war, for the first time he was aware of being grateful that he was home and safe—that Matt had made it home safely. And the next time he looked across the linen and candles and met Matt’s eyes, he didn’t look away, he smiled—and Matt smiled back.

After Christmas dinner they managed to avoid being press-ganged into playing cards, and went upstairs where Matt gave him the bad news that there was still no sign of Pearl.

“There’s been one development though.”

Nathan was resting on the bed. He felt ready to explode from eating too much, but he raised an inquiring head.

“We searched Phil Arlen’s apartment and found a wad of five-hundred dollar bills in Claire Arlen’s purse.”

Nathan dropped his head back on the pillow. He didn’t say what he was thinking—that he thought it was a hell of thing the cops were searching women’s purses, that none of them had a right to privacy these days.

“She says she doesn’t know how the money got there,” Matt added.

“Does the money match the ransom money serial numbers?”

“They’re checking on that now.” And then Matt strolled over to the bed, sat down and stretched out beside Nathan. He yawned widely. “Since we’re stuck…”

Nathan shook his head, rose, and went to prop a chair beneath the room door.

Matt was already sleeping by the time he got back to the bed.

They napped for a couple of long, peaceful hours, and when they woke they had turkey sandwiches and drinks in the bar with the other guests. They made small talk, sang a few carols when everyone had finally had enough to drink, and then at last it was late enough to retire upstairs, lock the door and turn down the lights. They crawled in between the sheets as though they had been cuddling up together every night for years. For a time they just lay there, breathing quietly, acquainting themselves.

Matt’s fingertips brushed the scars on Nathan’s side where the bullets had hit him, and Nathan’s skin twitched a little. It was Matt’s gentleness that he felt in his nerves and bones and blood, although it was nice to be touched, caressed.

“How the hell did you survive this?”

“Just unlucky, I guess.”

He was kidding—he thought he was—but Matt raised his head. Nathan couldn’t read his expression in the darkness, but he heard his tone. “There are about a hundred thousand guys who’d have given anything to trade places with you.”

Nathan grimaced. “I know.”

But Matt couldn’t let it go. “You know how rare it is to survive getting hit by machine-gun fire?”

“I know.”

“Seems to me like that kind of—”

“I know,” Nathan said again, and this time he couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice.

A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Advent Calendar Giveaway!

Josh will be giving away three DVD’s of film noir to one lucky commenter: Murder My Sweet, The Big Sleep, and The Lady in the Lake

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

12. Which book begins “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents”?

54 Responses

  1. This story is one of my favourites of yours. I love the time period and am really pleased that this is now going to be the first of a /series/.

    Thank you 🙂

    • Thanks, Anne. I always wanted to turn it into a series but the stars never quite aligned. I’m eagerly looking forward to picking up the storyline — and at the same time nervous that I don’t spoil anything!

  2. Intriguing snippet. And isn’t research fun? I felt guilty asking people for little details of the period I’m writing about until they all pointed out that they enjoy remembering just as much as I enjoy asking.

    • I think that’s true, Stevie. And I think living resources, even taking faulty memories into consideration, capture something that no other resource can.

      And I think it does often give pleasure to share that past — so maybe some of it lives on. (Or maybe I just have the gabbiest family in the world.) ;-D

      • My family can talk a lot! And Dad keeps writing up his own memories as well as those of all the older people he can track down with memories that interest him.

        I’m seriously considering running a competition on my LJ for people to tell me what my characters will be eating at the two posh restaurants where they dine out.

  3. I have most of your stories, and like Anne above this is one of my favourites. I’ve read it several times and will no doubt read it again.

    May your career as writer never falter!

  4. Love it, Josh.

    What’s the obelisk in the third picture?


  5. My absolute favourite bit of that excerpt – the line about the police searching women’s purses. That just evokes the atmosphere of the time so beautifully! 😀

  6. Thank you for the great post, Josh.

  7. That is a lovely lovely snippet. Thanks for sharing.

    And thank you, also, for the reminder of the differences between writing for pleasure and to put food on the table. It’s a compromise, no doubt about it. Selfishly, though, I, too, am glad that you decided to make it a living!

    • Aw, thanks, Teddy. I was talking about that recently with a friend. As exhausted and stressed as I’ve been the last couple of years, I wouldn’t change writing for a living for anything else I can think of. Compromises nothwithstanding, writing is still a joy to me.

  8. I’m with Anne, so glad to hear that this will be the first of a series. It moves me every time I read it. It is so atmospheric and very noir. Of all your books, this is the one I can ‘see’ most clearly.
    Take care.

    • Thanks, Jan. I feel the same, actually. In some ways this is my single favorite story. Obviously it’s not favorite in the way the Adrien books are — or even the Kit Holmes books — but it’s the closest I come to losing myself in my own work.

      • Its one of my favourites too, along with In A Dark Wood and Cards on The Table. I’m not sure I could pick one of those three.

  9. That was wonderful! It is available now? If not, when?

  10. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I have to go back and reread this post, because I got to “recently resold to Carina Press as the first book in the new Doyle and Spain series,” and the rest of it was drowned out by my brain going, “EeeeeEEEEEEeeeEEEEE!” Ohmigod, ohmigod! “Snowball in Hell” is my favorite of the many, many Lanyon novellas I’ve read, and that there will be more of these characters (more Nathan! EeeeEEEEeeee!), well… that’s pretty good news. Ahem. Yes.

  11. Great post, Josh. The photographs are lovely.

    Don’t put me in for the DVD’s – I already have them. Feeling a little “Marlowe-ish” today? : )

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m so glad we’ll be able to read more about these 2 men. I loved them from the start and I’ve always wanted their HEA. :-0

    • I’m glad, Patty. This is currently the story I get the most requests for a sequel (discounting AE). I’m very excited at the thought of revisiting them — nervous too!

      • You know, I really love AE, just like everyone else. But in most ways, AE felt finished to me. I’m much more interested in the stories that feel open-ended. It’s interesting that the story you wrote when you weren’t under pressure to meet deadlines, is the story YOU most enjoy. Like runners who reach a “runner’s high,” you had that out-of-body experience.

  13. I loved Snowball in Hell, I think it was one of the first stories of yours that I read. I can’t wait to see Matt and Nathan’s story continued.

  14. Thanks so much, Melanie!

  15. Hi, Josh!

    This is another Christmas present from you: more Nathan & Matt, yay! Thank you very much.

    Does your re-editing mean that I need to re-buy it?



  16. No. It’s primarily copyedit stuff, Antonella. One house style sheet versus another. ;-D

    When the sequel comes out, THEN I’ll hit you all up.

  17. Every time I read one of your pieces, I ask myself why I don’t own all of your writings. I’m working on it, but I look forward to when this piece comes out, it looks intriguing!

  18. I loved this story, as you know, Josh. I am looking forward to reading more about Matt and Nathan.


  19. Thanks, Alex. There are several writers I feel the same way about. It’s just a matter of having time to read. I do my book buying in big greedy sweeps.

  20. Patty, I feel the same way — and there was a time when I felt that same urgency to write the AE books, and in particular, to wrap them up exactly the way I envisioned.

    This series will take a huge amount of work (if the first book is any clue) but it’s like getting to be in that other world for a time.

  21. Great post, Josh. I really love the snippet and look forward to reading the rest.

  22. Very nice snippet, Josh, plus a most interesting preamble.

    I have several of your books, and find each is distinctively different.

  23. This is one of my favourites of yours too. (Which makes me wonder if perhaps you shouldn’t write for your own pleasure more often 😉 ) I’m so glad there are going to be more!

  24. Stevie, I think readers enjoy contests — I think they enjoy interacting with other readers and with the authors.

  25. Thanks, Alex. The main concern was always the time factor. With so much research involved, it wasn’t something I could knock out fast. Whereas most stories…the research is relatively minimal.

    I do love the research…

  26. I always loved this story. Time to read it again – save it for the plane. I am glad to hear that there will be a sequel to this. happy Holidays!

  27. Cracking good stuff!

  28. Love mysteries, love stories set in the 1940’s (as well as the 1920’s and 1930’s). 🙂 This one is going on my must-have list. On a side note, I’ve seen my grandparents’ ration books from the 1940s. (Yes, my grandmother saved nearly everything. Probably a habit from surviving the Great Depression.) 🙂

    • If that’s the case, Pamela, I think you just might enjoy this one.

      I loved finding the little details such as victory gardens and ration books. I can’t tell you how much time I spent trying to figure out what some of the meals would “cost” in ration stamps.

  29. I’d love to see a sequel. I was never much a fan of period writing until I started reading you.

  30. I take that as a real vote of confidence, Steve. Thank you.

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