by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have a review of Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler along with a fun interview with Rob. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler
Review by Lorie Lewis Ham
Devil’s Chew Toy is Rob Osler’s debut mystery novel which features Seattle teacher and part-time blogger Hayden McCall. His blog, Mates on Dates, is where he shares about his dating experiences as a single gay man in Seattle—one experience is going to take Hayden on a very unexpected and dangerous adventure.
One night Hayden tries to slip a dollar bill into the jockstrap of one of the go-go boys at Hunters and ends up accidentally kicked in the face. The dancer who kicked him, Camilo Rodriguez, is apologetic, and much to his surprise, invites Hayden to go home with him. Hayden wakes up the next morning in Camilo’s bed with the police knocking on the door. Camilo has gone missing and Hayden is now their prime suspect. At first, Hayden wants to go home and forget the whole thing. But he can’t help worrying about Camilo, and about the possibility he might go to jail for something he didn’t do, so he begins to investigate. Concerned about leaving him alone, he also takes home Camilo’s bull terrier Commander, despite the no pets policy where he lives.
Hayden tracks down Camilo’s friends—Hollister and Burley—both lesbians and very devoted to their friend. They tell him that Camilo is a “Dreamer” whose parents had been deported years earlier, and whose sister, Daniela, is presumed to have returned to Venezuela with them. The three team up to find their friend. Clues lead them to Barkingham Palace, a pet store where Camilo also worked part time. The store’s owner claims ignorance, but Hayden knows that something isn’t right. Camilo’s ex, Ryan, also seems shady. When Hayden and Hollister follow Ryan to a secure airport warehouse, they discover a shocking connection between him and Della and uncover the twisted scheme that’s made both of them rich. Could Camilo have figured it all out and been silenced?
This mystery is filled with twists and turns that lead the reader to unexpected answers—both about Camilo’s disappearance, and about his family. Devil’s Chew Toy is a delightful and fun mystery that you just can’t put down! Hayden is sweet, short (which I relate to), smart, and adorable, and the kind of person you would like to have as a friend. I love the friendship that develops between Hayden and Hollister, and I love that the book has such a diverse group of characters! This is the first in a series and I can’t wait to find out what kind of trouble comes up next for Hayden & Friends.
Interview with Rob Osler:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Rob: I started out as an advertising copywriter out of college and continued with that for a decade. What followed was a career in marketing during which I authored several journal and magazine articles. So, while I’ve been writing for all of my adult life, it has been mostly for business. Ten years ago, I turned to fiction writing as a creative outlet. That has turned out to be a very fulfilling decision.
KRL: Is this your first mystery?
Rob: Devil’s Chew Toy is my debut mystery novel. However, my first published mystery was a short story titled Analogue which appeared last year (2021) in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I am honored to say that story was recently awarded the 2022 Robert L Fish award for best debut short story by an American author from Mystery Writers of America.
KRL: Congratulations! Have you done other writing before this, if so what else have you written?
Rob: I have written two manuscripts for a historical mystery series set in the American West in the early 1900s. The protagonist is a woman detective who prefers to do her sleuthing in a man’s shoes. I am currently seeking representation for that series.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Rob: The Seattle, Washington setting for Devil’s Chew Toy allowed me to return to my favorite city (I lived in Seattle for nearly twenty years). When writing, an author immerses themself in the place, and Seattle and the surrounding Puget Sound area is where I wanted to visit. From a practical standpoint, I know the city and its neighborhoods well, so I could have Hayden and Hollister (the two stars of the story) race around the area with confidence that I had the essential details right.
As for the characters, I first chose a small twenty-something white gay guy as the main protagonist and wrote the story from his perspective. The story is written in the first person; I put quite a bit of myself into Hayden McCall. Because I knew him so well, I was able to – hopefully – bring him to life successfully. Hayden’s co-star is Hollister, a thirty-something Black lesbian with a Serena Williams-like stature. The story revolves around their budding friendship. I intentionally dialed up their differences both personality-wise and physical to facilitate tension but also to demonstrate that friendships that may on the surface appear unlikely can in fact be the strongest.
KRL: I really liked that aspect of the story. Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
Rob: I love this question. My chief mission as a storyteller is to give readers a fun, fast-paced, whodunnit with a few laughs along the way. Not by coincidence, that describes my favorite type of book. However, what is also important to me – and also what I desire as a reader – is to spend time with characters that reflect diversity in a non-stereotypical way and within a world that is far from perfect.
While I would never claim Devil’s Chew Toy to be a mission-driven work, I did touch lightly on themes of DACA / “dreamers” and issues of race in policing. I did so not to explore or dig into these themes, but rather I included them because they exist in our non-fictional world and within the fictional story, they impact the characters’ views and actions.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
Rob: I don’t have a set schedule. Instead, I try to do something writing-related five or six days of the week. That may be creating new content, editing, or promotional tasks. That said, the vast majority of my “writing” time is spent putting words onto the screen/page.
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
Rob: Mornings or afternoons are equally satisfying. I rarely write in the evening.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Rob: I do not outline, though the promised efficiency of doing so is not lost on me. It’s highly personal of course, but I have found that plotting the story in the abstract or out of context doesn’t work nearly as well as plunging ahead and seeing where the story takes me. I find that places emerge, characters arrive, dialogue happens.
This approach does require more editing. More often than not, I need to jump back to align storylines and certain events or bits of dialogue, add or subtract a clue, and so forth. I do, however, create a directory as I develop the story. Organized by chapter, the directory specifies the key action that takes place in that chapter along with the day and, if relevant, time of day. Not only is this helpful “way-finding,” but it also allows me to assess pacing because I can immediately recognize which chapters run at 60 mph versus 20.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Rob: Oh boy. Yes. I am not ashamed to say I queried the bejesus out of Devil’s Chew Toy. No agent would take it. Of course, the Big Five only consider agent-repped submissions so that path to publication wasn’t available to me. I learned that Crooked Lane Books was one traditional publisher that would take a look. Thanks to acquiring editor, Ben LeRoy, and consulting editor, Sara J. Henry (with a double-down effort on her part), the book got bought, and here we are.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Rob: Another oh boy! Within a previous question, I mentioned a historical series. Several years ago, I actually got a senior NYC agent at a well-respected agency to represent me and that story. After 14 months of excruciatingly slow-going edits, that agent abruptly left the agency, and my contract was canceled. It took me a while to come to terms with that outcome. The lesson: there is no true finish line.
Completing a manuscript or an edit, finding an agent, getting a publishing deal, promoting the book, starting on the next project… it’s all a bit of a wild ride and not for the faint of heart. But if you believe in your writing and keep at it no matter what obstacles are thrown in your way, you might make something of it.
KRL: I read your article in CrimeReads about Quozies, can you tell us a little about what those are?
Rob: A Quozy Mystery is the simple smashing together of Cozy (mysteries largely free of sex, profanity, and violence) and Queer fiction (stories featuring LGBTQ+ characters or themes). Across fiction that might be tagged LGBTQ+, I have found there is a good bit of literary fiction and a lot of gay romance or coming-out stories or crime fiction on the grittier side.
While I enjoy many of these books, that is not the type of book I wanted to write. I set out to write a story that featured friendship and was light-hearted and fun. Not until after the book was acquired and the editor said, “You know, this is a gay cozy,” did I realize I had a cozy on my hands. When I then looked (not exhaustively) at the cozies out there, there were VERY few “gay cozies.” In an effort to promote this wonderfully entertaining sub-sub-genre, I coined the term Quozy Mystery.
KRL: I think the term is a lot of fun. What are your future writing goals?
Rob: I would love to get to a place where I can write full-time. Currently, I spend about half of my working hours writing.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
Rob: Armistead Maupin, Agatha Christie.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Rob: I constantly look up words or phrases or concepts online to ensure I’m using them correctly. For the next Hayden & Friends book, for example, there is a “trans” character. To ensure I was getting a few things correct that I wasn’t sure about, I reached out to the TG Forum, where I found wonderfully gracious and helpful people to inform me. For the historical series set in 1908, I did extensive research, including many hours visiting the Idaho State Historical Archives. These are, of course, but only a few examples.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Rob: Fast-paced, good-hearted whodunnits.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Rob: I LOVE RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Amazing Race, and Jeopardy. I also enjoy a good thriller or mystery movie.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Rob: Get comfortable with the following:
Don’t get bummed by rejections, you only need one ‘yes’ – you just haven’t got it yet.
Don’t get excited when you get a request for a partial or a full MS, you’ve still a long way to go.
When you think you’re done, you’re not (this goes for any stage of the process).
Publishing moves in increments of months, expecting speed will make you crazy.
It’s no different than actors v. movie stars. There are a lot of the first, extremely few (as a percentage) of the second.
The only thing you have control over is the quality of your writing, so focus there.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Rob: I played banjo in a high school bluegrass band.
Rob: Andy Action Cat, aka Mister Chomps, an oddly tall (not wide) gray, tiger-striped cat we got at the Idaho Humane Society.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Devil’s Chew Toy, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “chew,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 2, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.
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