Magazine Feature / People

Author takes teacher-turned-sleuth on another gay adventure

With his second novel, Lee Patton is finally a first-time author.

The author’s new mystery, Love and Genetic Weaponry: The Beginner’s Guide, is his second featuring gay teacher-turned-sleuth Ray O’Brien, but it’s the first novel Patton has published under his own name.

Patton (MA English ’82) authored O’Brien’s previous adventure, 2000’s Nothing Gold Can Stay, under the pen name Casey Nelson. It was based on a real-life romance-gone-bad Patton witnessed while studying abroad in London; he didn’t want to alienate his classmates by letting them know he was writing about them.

For Genetic Weaponry, though, he decided to take all the glory.

“When I decided to publish this new novel under my own name, I was glad that I was kind of coming out as a writer, but I also realized there really are a lot of advantages to using a pen name,” says Patton, 57, who still lives near DU and works out regularly at the Ritchie Center. “This whole publicity machine gets rolling and reviews get written about you on Web sites, and when you’re writing under a pen name it’s just happening to that guy; it’s not you.”

Set in Denver, Wyoming and Utah, Genetic Weaponry finds O’Brien involved with political activist Lottie Weiss, who is attempting to free a young revolutionary who was arrested after bombing a genetics lab. It’s a novel by a gay author, with a gay protagonist, but Patton is reluctant to label it a “gay mystery.”

“I feel a little bit offended that gay writers get pigeonholed in bookstores and out there in the scene,” he says. “Like if you have a gay character, then it’s a gay novel. I noticed at Tattered Cover the place for my novel was next to some really raunchy titles. I just thought, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t very nice.’ If you were a straight writer, would your work end up next to something equally raunchy just because you’re straight?”

Patton has racked up accolades in the gay-fiction world, however. Both his novels were published by gay-friendly Alyson Books, and Nothing Gold Can Stay was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, one of the highest honors in the realm of gay literature.

“I was up against some really heavy-hitting writers,” Patton says. “One guy was a numerous winner of the Edgar Award, which is the No. 1 mystery award. And the other cat who was in the running was Christopher Rice, who’s Anne Rice’s son. That was part of the reason I didn’t expect to win, but when you’re in that kind of company …”

Patton was open about his sexuality during his DU years and says it was never an issue with his classmates or professors.

“I didn’t have any gay colleagues that I knew of, (but) the writing community I was in with my fellow students was incredibly supportive and open and cool the way most students are, most graduate students especially,” he says. “It wasn’t traumatic at all. In terms of the writing environment, it was very nurturing and friendly.”

Patton is already at work on the next Ray O’Brien mystery and says the wait between books won’t be nearly as long this time. Though he’s also published plays and poetry, he concentrates on fiction mostly.

“I think fiction is my first love and it probably always will be — especially literary fiction,” he says. “I haven’t published any of it, but my pretense about myself is that I write literary fiction. That’s why I’m so stunned that my first two books are mysteries.”

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