interior banner image

Blacklight: Commentary on the Past, Present, and Future of LGBTQ Crime Fiction

Blacklight: Commentary on the Past, Present, and Future of LGBTQ Crime Fiction

Author: John Copenhaver

August 13, 2015

Great crime fiction makes us see ourselves differently—more darkly, more luridly—and examine our own potential to do good or evil. It urges us to be more honest about who we are. It’s no wonder then that LGBTQ writers, who have fought to be honest with themselves and others, have been drawn to crime fiction and played an important role in developing the genre.

My hope is that this column will promote quality crime stories written by or about our community; explore what makes them powerful vehicles for addressing social justice issues; and discuss the complex moral questions that they can sometimes pose. It will consider the origins of crime fiction and how LGBTQ crime writers have adopted structures of the various subcategories—cozy, hardboiled, police procedural, etc.—in inventive ways, and it will discuss how those subgenres might have evolved. Further, it will analyze the potential literary quality of crime fiction. The sheer popularity of the genre and its adherence to a formula has often kept it from being taken seriously as “important” literature. This perspective has been changing as skilled crime writers have brought style, innovation and richness of character to these stories, as scholarship of crime fiction has increased, and as critics have begun to realize that the strictures of a formula, much like those in formal poetry, can inspire great instances of creativity.

So, what specifically will comprise “Blacklight”? At times, it will address an individual work or author, and at other times, a question that hovers over the genre. It will also facilitate commentary from other LGBTQ crime writers, as a collection of voices and perspectives is more powerful than a single voice. It’s a space for exploration, not pontification, informed by readers’ interests, not just mine. For that reason, feedback, book and author suggestions, any thoughtful remarks, and any writers interested in collaborating on a topic are welcome and encouraged.

Let’s use this space to learn and support one another, and to build a greater awareness of LGBTQ writing within the larger crime fiction community.

So, why “Blacklight”? The title conjures images of raves and blood-and-semen-splattered crime scenes, a noir-ish chiaroscuro. It’s also an oxymoron, suggesting the necessary and paradoxical relationship between good and evil. But my true affinity for it goes back to my childhood fascination with how its cool glow in Halloween haunted houses transformed the collar of my T-shirt, the enamel on my teeth, and the whites of my eyes—traits of myself I didn’t usually pay attention to, helping me see myself in a new and unsettling way, much like most compelling crime fiction can.

Photo courtesy of John Copenhaver
John Copenhaver photo

About: John Copenhaver

John Copenhaver’s historical crime novel, Dodging and Burning, won the 2019 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and garnered Anthony, Strand Critics, Barry, and Lambda Literary Award nominations. His second novel, The Savage Kind, will be published in October 2021. Copenhaver cohosts on the House of Mystery Radio Show, and is the six-time recipient of Artist Fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and currently lives in Richmond, VA, with his husband, artist Jeffery Paul (Herrity).

Subscribe to our newsletter