April 27, 2021

Robyn Gigl: Was it Murder or Self Defense?

Robyn Gigl: Was it Murder or Self Defense?

Ep:081 Robyn Gigl, the author of BY WAY OF SORROW, is an attorney, author and activist who has been honored by the ACLU-NJ and the NJ Pride Network for her work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. 

She has been appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to the Court’s Committee on Diversity Inclusion and Community Engagement, and by the Governor and Legislature to the New Jersey Transgender Equality Taskforce. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest LGBTQ+ Civil Rights Organization. Robyn lives in New Jersey, where she continues to practice law by day, and work on her next Erin McCabe novel by night. Fortunately, she has a very boring social life. 

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Transcript

Brad Shreve:

In this episode, my guest Robyn Gigl talks about how overwhelmed she is by reactions to her debut novel. And Justene has another book she couldn't put down

And this one is also written by another Lambda literary award nominee.

Brad Shreve:

Welcome to Queer Writers of Crime, where we feature LGBTQ authors of mystery, suspense, and thriller novels. before you begin your book recommendation, I have just a couple of things.

Justene:

You got it.

Brad Shreve:

The Book Recommendation. Page Graeme Cheater put together for us with the listing of all the books that have been recommended or mentioned on this show for the past year and a half. we have been terrible about updating our, I certainly have been, and it is finally updated. So,

Justene:

thank you, Brad.

Brad Shreve:

Yes. So I don't want to hear anybody that I know listened to this show, see them online. If somebody says. I'm looking for a book to read. If they don't respond, here's a link where you can find plenty of options to look for. So it's there. You just go to our website, Queer Writers of Crime dot com and click on the books mentioned link, and it's a great spreadsheet that lists every book we've ever mentioned.

Justene:

Yeah, occasionally I have to go back and look to it, to remind myself of what I've read.

Brad Shreve:

I have to look back and sometimes see who I've interviewed, because I'll have a name pop up. I'm like, that name sounds familiar. And I look I'm like no I didn't interview them. I don't know why they sound familiar, but they do also, Lorie Lewis Hamm with Kings Rivers Life. Okay. She's been a good friend of ours. She, uh, she works for Kings River Life News and Reviews. And, uh, she's done quite a few reviews for people that have been guests on the show, such as myself, Dharma, Kelleher I know Joe Constantino and I think Matt Lubbers-Moore writing some reviews for her.

Justene:

No he's writing the coming attractions column.

Brad Shreve:

Okay. He's writing the coming attractions column. Well, Kings Rivers Life is a California magazine, a general magazine, but they have a. News and Reviews section and Lorie Lewis Hamm does the mystery section and it's not strictly LGBTQ, but she has made a very concerted effort to make sure she reaches out to the LGBTQ community, especially every June. Well, they have a podcast and I don't think I brought it up before.

Justene:

Okay.

Brad Shreve:

it's short. It's runs about, I would say 20 minutes. I think I've probably the longest I've heard is 30 minutes and it's every other week. And

Justene:

Wow. You think I can go work there, Brad?

Brad Shreve:

I'm already giving you that long

Justene:

No, every other week, that sounds like an easy schedule

Brad Shreve:

Uh, that is an easier schedule than what we deal with. I will grant you that. And I actually was told when I started this podcast, we should start out only doing every other week and see if we can work out to every week. But I just jumped right in

Justene:

yep. Just don't go to twice a week. Okay.

Brad Shreve:

No, we're not gonna go to twice a week. I couldn't handle that. but it's every other week, and they. read short stories and chapters from mystery novels. They're read by local act actors here in California, but of course anybody in the run, the world should be interested in a good mystery and they can listen to the episodes or they can subscribe to them. If they go to Mystery Rat's Maze Podcast, which I'm going to leave the link in the show notes, they can listen to it there, or Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and all the usual good places. it's a nice little listen. I'd recommend it. I was talking to Lorie and I said, you know, I haven't brought that up on the show yet, so I'm going to mention it. So just want to toss it out there. What do you have for us today?

Justene:

Well, I've got another book off that Lambda, Literary awards, nominees, list her for the finalists in the mystery category, the LGBTQ mystery category.

Brad Shreve:

Okay. Who've we got this week.

Justene:

I've got, I Hope You're Listening. by Tom, Ryan, Tom Ryan. He lives in writes within it with his husband and his dog. And this book is a young adult novel. With a lesbian, um, main character. Tom took the first three chapters book and submitted it to the Lambda, Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Queue Voices. and he got in.

Brad Shreve:

Well, that's impressive. That's not easy to get into.

Justene:

No. And it really shows the, uh, given the quality and he, in his acknowledgements, he talks about how much, input he got and helped from the rest of the group on crafting this novel. And it's a cut above many of what's out there. So it's young adult novel. These are 17 year olds.

Brad Shreve:

Have we done a young adult novel before.

Justene:

We have, we have, Marko Realmonte's Murder at White Oak and Butcher of Oxford in his Jake Western series. those are young adult novels.

Brad Shreve:

Mark Zubro is writing young adult and I talked to him about it when he was a guest. And we have quite a few of our listeners. I know, read young adult novels because a lot of them are really good.

Justene:

yes. Oh yeah. They're really great.

Brad Shreve:

And here you have another one.

Justene:

Here. I have another one. And if we didn't have so many explicit warnings on our podcasts, I would, I would encourage young people to listen and do more books for them. But you know how that is? We can't just keep our guests under control. Can we Brad?

Brad Shreve:

No, I will keep my mouth, clean this week.

Justene:

Okay.

Brad Shreve:

At any way, have you listed, if you've read, if you've read into young adult novels, they certainly do not dance around profanity.

Justene:

I don't know, because apparently I don't see profanity. I'll handbooks my daughter who doesn't really care for profanity. She said, man, they use the F word a lot in this book and I'm like, really? I didn't even notice rolls her eyes at me.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. I was in some Writers groups where we would share our readings in the ones that wrote young adult. I would like that stuff's in young adult novels? He says, you're like, yeah. And I'm like, well, I must be old, none back in my day.

Justene:

you're back in your day, the young adult novels were very sanitized and there wasn't much adult stuff in them. Well, that's for all. I know, you know, what was in the library of sanitized because you could, uh, buy stuff that was more gripping. But nevertheless, Delia is the main character and she and Burke grew up together with another girl in the neighborhood city. And one day when Burke is off at the movies was a bunch of other kids in a couple of the neighborhood, grownups, Delia, and Sibi when they're seven, they go off to play in this tree house and. Sippy gets abducted and Delia gets tied up and left there and has in the 10 years dealt with survivor's guilt. and as the logical thing, even her logical thing is what could a seven year old who was tied up in gag have done, but she still feels like she didn't do it. And she lost her friend. So she channels this into a podcast, a true crime podcast, where, she, hands up the facts of an ongoing, missing persons case, and her listeners who are called the laptop, detective agency go out and in real time investigate these missing persons cases. And they have indeed solved many of these cases. and so she feels like she's giving back.

Brad Shreve:

Interesting premise.

Justene:

It's an interesting pharmacy. And then there's a young girl who moves in across the street into this old abandoned house. And they, uh, it's interesting because I don't know about you growing up, but being gay when I was growing up was kind of like something to notice, but it was very matter of fact that here, they, they fall in love. They, they flirts, um, they go to the school dance together and nobody reacts at all. Um, and that is just a, it's just a part of the story and doesn't really fit anywhere into the plot. So I thought that was, that was really interesting.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. As a matter of fact in my neighborhood, but then that's wonderful. I love them. And I love it when books don't feel like they have to go there every time.

Justene:

Yeah. Yeah. And so I thought that was really great. So the girl across the street is Sarah and she ends up, no one knows about this podcast or that she disguises her voice on it. She doesn't tell anybody who she is. The only one who knows is her friend Burke, who has done the cybersecurity. So nobody can hack into the system or trace it back to her. But Sarah somehow figures out that it's a it's her podcast and. She finally has someone to talk to about this. Meanwhile, she's moved away from that house in the neighborhood and the, the family that has moved into her house has their child abducted. And this is, is either it's a copycat or it's the same person, 10 years apart. There's pressure from Burke. Somewhat from Sarah, but certainly from Burke to use her podcast to find this missing child. And she does not want to do this. She has, created this to give herself some distance. She doesn't investigate. She doesn't want people. She doesn't want to have any input, any relationship between her and the missing cases that she puts on the show. And this causes a riff between her and Burke. And it it's some of the tension in the first part of the novel is from that. And also from the fact that there's another child missing and it's brought up all these old memories. She eventually gets pulled into it and ends up investigating, talking to a lot of people and she solves it eventually. Yeah. And that is the second part of the book. It's very exciting. It builds, builds very logically from a kind of peaceful, kid recording from a podcast from her bedroom to the unexciting climax, a pretty satisfying ending. If you can have a satisfying ending with missing children and it's terrific.

Brad Shreve:

sounds really good. I love the premise.

Justene:

Yeah. I think it's, it's a great premise and it's very well, very well written and well played out well, played out, not, not very predictable. you know, if you think of your favorite true crime podcasts and try to figure out how they would go about investigating a case. I'm not sure they would, have the same creativity or, effort, this young lady puts in.

Brad Shreve:

And I'll say this neither, the Hardy Boys, nor did Nancy Drew have a podcast.

Justene:

that's right. That's right. And there's a, there's a fair amount of Nancy Drew style mystery solving, and a few, uh, Nancy Drew style clues along the way. Although, I think things get a little more tense than they did in all of the Nancy drew novel.

Brad Shreve:

I know a lot of the authors I've interviewed on here said that they grew up really enjoying the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, as I'm sure many of our listeners have as well. So they will get into that part of it.

Justene:

Unfortunately, I think this is a standalone. Uh, I don't think Delhia is going to have a lot of other books. He has written two other young adult books. The first one which was before this one was Keep This to Yourself. It's about a serial killer, who's terrorized a small town. And it's also a young adult book. The next one, which is due out on May 4th is called When You Get the Chance and the tagline is cousins on a road trip to pride. And that sounds like a very interesting book. It doesn't look like a mystery,

Brad Shreve:

Sounds good

Justene:

I'm giving this one intriguing recommendation.

Brad Shreve:

We've had a lot of intriguing lately

Justene:

Yeah, I'm kind of an intriguing kind of mood

Brad Shreve:

and you have really been on a roll with like books. You've been really excited about.

Justene:

I have. I have, I it's, been a good run now. I got to say all of our books, I'm excited about, But sometimes you gotta kind of dig through the pile to get to them. And these have just all kind of popped up to the top. And I'm really pleased. I'm enjoying my reading lately.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. I want to remind her by Justene does not do book reviews. She does book recommendations only. So sometimes I get these messages or like I had to put another one down. I got to find another one. I have to I'd put another one down. I got find another one and lately she has not done that.

Justene:

Lately I say, boy, this is great. Oh, you really going to love this one? I'm really excited about this one and that this is one of them. I think I texted you a, this, this is a good choice. This was a very good choice.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. You've sent me messages sometimes sweating. Like, how am I going to get anything done in time for our recording because I don't

Justene:

some of these books I put down, just so people know some of these books, I put down a great books, but I'm just not in the mood for that kind of. Mystery. And as you say, we've had some intriguing ones lately and I have been in a mood for intriguing. and so I've, I've picked books that kind of fit into that category.

Brad Shreve:

and that's an important point. A lot of times it's not this, the book is not all that great. It's just not you're in the space for that particular type of story.

Justene:

Right. And, and, you know, a lot of these books, the last several books, there has not been a lot of relationship angst and I have not been in the mood for relationship angst and the last few books have not had that. We had the Chris Holcombe book and then we had Nighthawking and now we have this one and none of them have any relationship angst in them.. Yeah. of course, you know, next week I may be back to relationship angst again. You never know with me.

Brad Shreve:

It's something we all can relate to.

Justene:

That's right. Okay. Brad that is all I have for this week. Everybody should run out and get Dead As a Doornail by Grant Michaels. I talked about our last week show. keep buying it.

Brad Shreve:

See you next week. Hi, Robyn,

Robyn Gigl:

Hi, Brad. How are you?

Brad Shreve:

I'm doing great. Welcome to Queer Writers of Crime. It's a pleasure to have you on

Robyn Gigl:

It's an honor to be on.

Brad Shreve:

I'm going to read your introduction, but before I do so I'm going to tell you there's something about that made me laugh. And I'll tell you about it when I'm done with the intro.

Robyn Gigl:

Okay.

Brad Shreve:

All right. So here we go, Robyn Gigl the author of By Way of Sorrow is an attorney, author, and activist who has been honored by the ACLU New Jersey and the New Jersey Pride Network for her work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. She has been appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to the court's Committee on Diversity Inclusion and Community Engagement, and by the governor and legislature. to the Jersey Transgender Equality Task Force. She is a member of the board of directors of Garden, State Equality, New Jersey's largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. Robyn lives in New Jersey, where she continues to practice law by day and work on her next, Erin McCabe novel by night. Fortunately, she has a very. boring social life. Now I got to get to the why I think it's funny because in addition to all that, there's more, you speak for currently issues. and provide training to corporations, the New Jersey state police, the U S attorney General's office in New Jersey, the New Jersey office to the attorney general, the New Jersey office of the public defender, and many others. You don't have a boring social life. You have no time for a social life.

Robyn Gigl:

This is all true. You're a hundred percent correct.

Brad Shreve:

I don't know how you'd do it, but when we may get to that later, we're certainly, going to get to some of the things we just talked about. But first let's start with the novel By Way of Sorrow this is the first Erin McCabe legal thriller. And I'm going to start off with another list here, I can't read all the, all the accolades that you've received, but I'm going to go through a few. The New York times Book Review said that Gigl is to astute and compassionate writer to create cartoon villainy out of anti-trans attitudes. Quietly groundbreaking Booklist said Gigl has a transgender lawyer, herself providing provocative insights into the legal system and the challenges of gender identity. Publisher's weekly said, Gigl an attorney offers some enlightening insights into the workings of the legal world. You also had great reviews from Mystery Scene author, Edwin Hill, who was a guest on the show. A excellent writer had some really good things to say as well. Some additional bestselling authors. I got to say I was really impressed when. I started reading this novel because I generally skip the forwards. It drives people crazy when I tell them that I'm glad I didn't skip it your forward because it grabbed me immediately. And I really would have missed out. What I found really surprising is I knew this was the first in the Erin McCabe thriller series. What I didn't know at the beginning was that this was your debut novel. How as a first-time novelists does all that attention feel

Robyn Gigl:

Overwhelming. I am a debut novelist, but there's a, but here I started writing my first novel, 40 years ago, I was about 28 at the time. And back then there were no computers. No, you know, it was all longhand on yellow legal pads. And I probably got about 200 pages in and writer's block and family and career and everything else to go over. And it sat in a briefcase for, for decades. And then after I transitioned and I was living on my own and I had some time, I wrote a novel finished the manuscript prior to, By Way of Sorrow. And that fortunately never saw the light of day. Otherwise I wouldn't be getting these accolades. It was a learning process. And so I'd like to think that those experience helped get me to be a better writer so that when I sat down to do By Way of Sorrow, I had some experiences that were not as successful. As By Way of Sorrow so far has turned out to be so the things that you've said, that the reviews that you've you've read, it has been incredibly overwhelming, absolutely surreal. I walked into my local Barnes and Noble yesterday, and so on the new release, you know, prominently displayed and it took my breath away.

Brad Shreve:

Novels by transgender authors and with a transgender protagonist are really difficult. to you get published by a traditional publishing house? Now I know this is your first novel, but based on your experience, do you think that's changing based on things you may have heard or if you're not sure? Do you have any advice for transgender authors that are struggling with this?

Robyn Gigl:

Well, certainly Torrey Peters, novel, Detransition Baby, which came out, I guess in January has gotten some notoriety and a lot of press. I don't know. The answer to the question, I think I'd like to think that the landscape is changing. If you look at. Not so much the book world, but if you look at what's on television and by television, I mean Netflix and Hulu and everything else, you're starting to see more transgender characters. And you're, you're seeing more people in the industry that are involved in producing those stories. Um, from Laverne Cox, you know, Janet Mock. All those people they're changing the landscape. And so I'd like to think that that spilling over somewhat into the publishing world and the, you know, I, I have to thank Kensington Books and my editor John Scognamiglio for taking a chance on me. Because I am a debut author and it was a book with two transgender characters and I am a transgender woman. So it, it was a big risk and yet they took it and I'd like to think they took it because it it's a good book. And I hope that the moral of the story is if there's a good book with good characters, even if those characters are trans. Written by a trans author, that those books will see the light of day. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm hoping that we're seeing a change in the landscape. I know, you know, I know Dharma Kelleher's is out there and has been out there for a long time and self publishes. Had, you know, how to deal back in the day and then decided, you know, she wanted to self publish. So there's been other people who have, have broken the ground before me. And I hope that it's changing. I hope that there's going to be a broader acceptance. And I hope that there's room for these stories mainstream, because I wanted to write a mainstream book. I wanted to write a book that whether you're. Part of the LGBTQ+ community, or you're the straightest couple sitting on the beach. You want to read this book because it's a good book. It's a legal thriller and it grabs you and it holds onto you. And in the process, maybe you'll learn a little bit about the transgender community.

Brad Shreve:

Dharma has been on the show a couple of times and we're in contact quite often. And she shared on the show as well. Some other authors I've interviewed that their frustration that they got back from publishing houses was we already did a transgender novel this year which is really depressing.

Robyn Gigl:

very depressing.

Brad Shreve:

I hope that's changing.

Robyn Gigl:

I do too, because I'd like to think again to the extent, and you know, I've only, just recently started Dharma's uh, Jinx, Ballou series. And I love her work. I think it's great. I'd like to think that we're so different in terms of what we're writing about. Even though we have trans characters, it's, it's like, you know, reading something by two different authors in two different genres that not that hers isn't thrilling and an adventure. It is. I love it. But Jinx Ballou is not Erin McCabe. And so I would hope that there's enough room in the literary world for any number of transgender characters, because no transgender character is the same as any other. It's, we're all different.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah, her novels are quite a bit different than yours, but they're both great novels. So yeah, there is no cookie cutter way to make a good book

Robyn Gigl:

Right. Just same with, with cis-gender people. Same with gay men, lesbians, BI people. There's so many different characters. There's so many different people who inhabit that space. There's lots of different stories to tell.

Brad Shreve:

Now when you were in law school, did you ever imagine that you would be doing so much work on behalf of the LGBTQ community and especially the trans community as well as writing a novel. With a trans character.

Robyn Gigl:

The answer is definitely not. I was so far in the closet back then that my closet had closets. I, I never envisioned that I'd be out and open as a trans woman. Something that I've always known about myself since I was. Three four or five years old, but I was born in a different time born in 1952. Things were a lot different. I had no way of knowing there were other people like me. I was probably in my twenties before I knew that there were other people who were transgender and the word that was used back the terminology wasn't even transgender back then, you know, you had transvestites and you had transsexual people. And so it was so different. And so I never imagined that I'd be out and open about my gender identity and who I am, but, you know, life's journey takes us places that we don't necessarily expect to go. And obviously I am happy to be myself to live my authentic life. as I said, writing was something I always wanted to do. And with. grown children living on my own. I did have the time because I don't have a social life to sit down at night and, and write. And because I was then out and open, it was, it was okay for me to write about the trans experience because I had, at least for myself lived one portion of that lived. You know, I have that journey. It's just my journey. It's different than every other trans person's experience. But I felt like I, I could speak to that. And so 43 years ago when I was graduating law school, not even a thought in my mind that I'd be here and that's where I am now.

Brad Shreve:

well, it was kind of a silly question cause I pretty much thought that would be the answer, but I love you saying that you are happy. They're living your authentic life. That's wonderful to hear.

Robyn Gigl:

No, I, it, it it's, it's been such a blessing in it and I consider my myself incredibly blessed. Uh, I have a wife. Who's still my best friend. We don't live together anymore, but we're still incredibly close. I have three amazing children who, as I said, are all adults who love me just as much as they love me before I have four amazing granddaughters. So my life is, is truly blessed in it and I couldn't be happier.

Brad Shreve:

well, let's get to the book, starting with the main character, your protagonist attorney, Erin McCabe. Tell us about Erin.

Robyn Gigl:

Erin is a 35 year old trans woman who also happens to be a lawyer and she does criminal defense. In other words, she represents people who were accused of crimes. And when the book starts, it said in 2006, 2007, and as I said, Erin's 35. It, it comes out during the course of the book. That approximately two years before the events of the case that they get involved in, Erin had transitioned. So she transitioned about two years prior to that. And she's in a, a law partnership with a fellow by the name of Duane Swisher. Who's an African-American male and former FBI agent. And they're running this law firm representing criminal defendants.

Brad Shreve:

Let's talk about the story., share what you can.

Robyn Gigl:

So the story involves the I don't want to use the word murder because it's an open-ended question as to whether it was murder or self-defense, the stabbing death of the only son. Have one of the most powerful politicians and richest men in the Southern part of the state of New Jersey and the person who is charged with his murder is a young trans woman of color who is also a sex worker by the name of Sharise Barnes and early on in the story, Duane and Erin are referred the case by Another criminal defense attorney, who is one of the most prominent criminal defense attorneys in the state, but doesn't feel he can take the case because he knows the deceased father. And because he's so powerful, nobody wants to run a foul of William Townsend, who is the, the gentlemen involved, the, the politician involved. And so Erin. And Duane are referred this case. They take it on. And the story involves what happened in the motel room. The night that William Townsend Jr was stabbed. Was it self defense? Was it murder? And that's what the story is about and mixed in with that, of course, as a result of Erin and Duane representing a. Transgender sex worker. The story comes out that Erin is transgender and that plays into the mix. So you get the backstory on Erin, you get the backstory on Sharise and how someone's gender identity in, in Theresa's case, her race. And then on the flip side, how power and money on the other side, how that stew all comes together and what we call the justice system.

Brad Shreve:

one thing I'm curious about starting with the prologue. I said it was gripping and I hope you don't mind me saying what it is cause it's right at the beginning, it is the murder and it wasn't grotesque in any way, but it grabs you. It seemed very real immediately following that you kept this amazing pace because I believe it's right at the beginning of chapter one where. Erin goes to a judge to have him recused off a case. And the reason is because of his homophobic background and it's a battle and he does recuse himself. And I have to ask the question, is that based on an actual occurrence?

Robyn Gigl:

I will tell you what I tell everybody. You know, I've been practicing law for 43 years and probably for about 37 of those years in to greater or lesser extent in, uh, amongst other things that I did. I did criminal defense work. So I have a familiarity with what goes on in criminal cases. So it wasn't like I had no background in that. And there's certainly things that I've seen and experienced. That you take those little nuggets as, as an author and build something off of them, but nothing that happens in By Way of Sorrow is based on anything that I personally experienced with the exceptions of some of the lived experiences that Erin has as a trans woman. But in terms of the legal procedures, the case, the characters that are involved, the, the rich politician, the, the, uh, prosecutor, all of those people, their composite made up people from 43 years of experience. The only character that is close to someone in my life is Erin's mom Peg McCabe. Who is based loosely on my own mom and Peg is really an homage to my mom and how she dealt with her child coming out when I did as a, as a transgender woman.

Brad Shreve:

Well, it's a wonderful tribute. Okay.

Robyn Gigl:

Yeah. My, my mom was an amazing woman. She, she passed away back in December before the book came out. Uh, she's just an amazing woman. She was 96, had a wonderful. Wonderful sense of humor. And there's a few lines that Peg dishes out during the course of the book, uh, that are paraphrase from real conversations between my mom and I.

Brad Shreve:

The reason I asked about the, uh, the recusal is it seemed real to me. And even though you said it's not based on an actual event, based on your experience as an attorney over the years, could you see that as a, a real thing that could occur?

Robyn Gigl:

Oh, absolutely. Oh, there's, there's no question about it. I certainly, maybe I haven't had the experience of dealing with the homophobic judge, but I certainly know enough people in the LGBTQ+ legal community who have dealt with judges who are either homophobic or transphobic or, or, or just. Maybe not sensitive to the issues that they're dealing with when they're dealing with issues involving people in the community. So yes, I could absolutely see it happening. And again, remember, this is set in 2006, 2007. So we were in a very different environment in terms of people's knowledge, certainly about transgender issues back then, it was not as. Uh, you know, widely talked about well-known, you know, Kaitlyn hadn't come out yet, you know? So there was less exposure, less discussion about the issue.

Brad Shreve:

well, I won't ask what you think of Kaitlyn. We'll skip right over that one.

Robyn Gigl:

fair enough

Brad Shreve:

Two of your characters. Sharise the sex worker who is accused of the crime. And I can't remember the, the, um, Erin's partner.

Robyn Gigl:

Swisher.

Brad Shreve:

Um, Duane they're both. African-American. How comfortable did you feel writing about black individuals?

Robyn Gigl:

to explain a little bit of the background of Sharise. I had, finish the first novel that the manuscript that I said had never gotten published, but I had gotten an agent and that was being shopped around. So I had some time and I was reading a lot at that point and I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird and I'm not comparing my book to Kill a Mockingbird, but I was struck by the fact of how much of To Kill a Mockingbird is about the trial of Tom Robinson. I was frustrated because we never get in Tom Robinson's head. We never understand what he's thinking, how a black man in the thirties accused of molesting, uh, a white woman in the deep South. He must've known that he had no chance, but of course, that story is all told from the point of view of Scout, the young narrator of the story. And I was, I was just. frustrated and thinking what it would be fascinating to be in his head. So the first character that I actually came up with was Sharise because I said, you know, it'd be interesting to do it from the point of view of a trans woman of color who's accused of a crime and get in her head. And then I said, no, I can't do that. That's not my story to tell. I can't tell it from that point of view because that's not my lived experience. And so that's how come Erin is born, so to speak because she becomes the central voice in the story, but I still loved Sharise and I still wanted that as part of this story. So. What I did was after I did it, the first draft I contacted a friend of mine who works at a not-for-profit, uh, who's also an African-American male and said, look, can you do me a favor? Can you, you take a look at this. And he works with a number of trans women of color, both as volunteers and who are part of the office. Right. And I asked him if he would have them take a look at it, to make sure that I was authentic. To that experience and that I was telling him fairly and appropriately, and, and he did me, did me that favor and, and shared it. And of course you share it with other people. So in terms of Duane, you know, there's attorneys, I know, you know, attorneys of color that I I'm happy to share this story with and, and make sure that I'm getting it right. Just like I shared it with people I know in law enforcement and, and on the prosecutor's side. You want to make sure that you're accurately portraying all of the different elements in the story. So I wanted a book that had a lot of diversity. Uh, it's very important. Diversity and inclusion is very important to me. As you mentioned, I'm on a Supreme Court committee and I want it to represent the legal world in all its diversity. So that's why Duane is an African-American male. Sharise again, you know, it was that here's a woman who has been thrown out by our family has had a much different life than Erin has had, and I wanted to be able to get in her head, but I wanted to be able to get into her head authentically. And so it's not really from her point of view, it's more from Erin's point of view.

Brad Shreve:

were you concerned about subconsciously fallen into any stereotypes?

Robyn Gigl:

Absolutely not even subconsciously. I was very concerned about doing it consciously, uh, you know, in the sense that I was very conscious of not falling into them. So subconsciously, you know, you don't want to do tropes. You don't want to have the white savior, you know, who who's helping the poor defenseless, you know, black. woman who's charged with this crime. Sharise had to be a strong, independent character who stood on her own, but was in a situation where she needed a lawyer. So I was very conscious of those things. I hope. Uh, it certainly was my goal to make Sharise strong, independent woman who. Erin is not the white savior.Erinn is our lawyer. They're equals they're working together to, to get a good result for Sharise. At the end of the day,

Brad Shreve:

Sharise and Duane, tell us a little bit about them.

Robyn Gigl:

So Sharise is 19 years old. As I said, she's had a very different life experience than Erin in the sense that when she came out or, well, I shouldn't even say she came out. She was discovered by her parents. And, uh, you learned through this story that ultimately she leaves home when she's 15 years old and, and lives on the street. And like many people who are forced, you know, there's so many LGBTQ folks who are homeless at such a young age because either they're thrown out of their homes or because it's safer out on the streets for them to be at home with, with families that don't accept them and, and persecute them and, and treat them badly. So Sharise winds up on the street and as many young people do, who wind up on the street, you, you, how do you survive? You survived through survival crimes and B that drugs or sex work. That's the only opportunities that are available to you. And so Sharise is a sex worker and has a long rap sheet because you know, she works in Atlantic city gets arrested frequently because she's out on the streets that's where she is when, when she meets young Mr. Townsend. In Duane's case, Duane, uh, is Ivy educated. He was a basketball player, went to Brown university. His nickname is swish because his last name is Swisher. But also because he's a basketball player, it's a perfect nickname for him because his shot from three point range was what's so sweet. had met. Erin prior to her transition because Lauren Erin's wife who they're, they're now divorced. They divorced when Erin transitioned had been roommates with Duane's, then girlfriend, future wife, Corrine. Uh, and so that's how they meet their, their dating girlfriends. And they form a friendship and they all both go off to law school. Duane, when he comes out, goes into the FBI. Erin goes to the public defender's office after a year clerkship. And they come back together after Erin leaves the public defender's office and sets up her own practice. And Duane resigns in good standing from the FBI. And there's a backstory there that we won't go into too much because I don't want to give away any spoilers.

Brad Shreve:

Oh, no,

Robyn Gigl:

A and, and so they have this common bond, Erin. They formulate a partnership before Erin transitions and then Erin comes out and they remain in partnerships in a partnership and continue on, in their line of work. And, and so that's who Duane is. He's Erin's partner. uh, probably her closest friend and, they're, they are,

Brad Shreve:

Their friendship is very real.

Robyn Gigl:

Thank you.

Brad Shreve:

Sharise. you mentioned earlier that you hope some people learned something along the way Sharise is in jail as a man. And throughout the book, sometimes is referred to as he, sometimes she, and it wasn't confusing to me, but probably for the first time I really got this. I can only imagine how that would feel. And you open my eyes a little bit. When you were writing this novel, did you, were you writing things just authentically and it's the way that these things came out or were you actually, as you wrote, it said, I hope it opened some eyes and teach people something along the way.

Robyn Gigl:

The latter I was, I was, as I said earlier, I wanted to write a thriller that would appeal to as broad an audience as possible. But I also knew that I could come at the legal thriller genre from a very unique perspective as a trans woman writing about trans characters. So I didn't want the message to overwhelm the story, but I wanted it to fit naturally into the story. So that. When, for example, Sharise is mis-gendered by the judge and the judge refuses to address her as her and uses male pronouns and refuses to use Sharise. Those are all, although they. Certainly mis-gendering happens to most trans people, including myself pronouns, not being used correctly, sometimes inadvertently sometimes on purpose. Those are all experiences that I, I think a lot of trans people have had, and certainly I had, but in terms of, of that and how it, it resonates with people that was something that. I wanted to build into the story and make it. Just inherently part of the story so that it, it fit organically and it wasn't so that somebody reading it go, Oh, there she goes again, off on a rant about, you know, transgender issues. In fact, there is there's one point in one of the, the conversations that take place in the judges, chambers, where the prosecutor accuses Erin of doing just that. She's like, no, this is, this is who my client is. And that's what I wanted it to be. This is just who they are. And it's part of the story.

Brad Shreve:

I'm curious that the jail time that Sharise had was she wasn't treated well. Los Angeles has a floor there. The jail is huge. There is a floor that is the LGBTQ floor and straight individuals that are arrested have actually pretended to be gay so they could get on that floor because it's known as being a good floor to be on. And anybody that goes through the process, they are questioned heavily to ensure that they're truly gay. And I'm curious, because I was really surprised at, and I thought it was a wonderful thing. Is that something that exists in other major cities? Do you know.

Robyn Gigl:

In 2006, 2007, when I set this, at least for New Jersey, the answer was no. And I will say when we're talking. About County jails because Sharise is, charged. So she's not in a state prison. She's in a County jail awaiting trial and County jails tended to have policies that are different from at least in New Jersey, from County to County. I don't know how it is in California, maybe Los Angeles, because it is, you know, a big city with, you know, a very diverse population. Maybe that's. That's normal for them where you might not find that somewhere else in California, at least in New Jersey, 2006, 2007, really transgender individuals. And, and again with it, there's, there's really no spoiler here Sharise has not had what we would call gender confirming surgery. So she still has male genitalia. And I will tell you that even up until very recently, In New Jersey, despite the fact that there's policies and procedures in place that are supposed to protect transgender inmates. So often trans women who hadn't had gender confirming surgery were housed in men's facilities and it still takes place, unfortunately. And it's, and it's so horrible. Hopefully that's changing, but as you can imagine, there's such a political backlash in terms of trying to convince, and it's rears its head several times in the, in the book you don't have to have gender confirming surgery to be a woman. A transgender person, their gender identity is who they are. And unfortunately, in so many spaces and we see it across the country now in terms of trans athletes and trans healthcare for, for kids, there's such a pushback against trans people. And, and so that's what. That's real that the part about her being put in basically solitary confinement, supposedly for her protection is real. That really happened in New Jersey jails and in New Jersey prisons. So, you know, again, I've never had that experience, but I know it existed and I I'm involved in a case now involving a transgender inmate. So, I mean, those are, those are things that. Exists. And I wanted to hopefully, again, educate people as to what it's like for trans people.

Brad Shreve:

well, as far as educating people about I was interviewed recently and it's the reason it's on the top of my head right now. I only had one close friend that died of AIDS because I came out very late as you did. And I had always suspected something, but in the hospital we were talking and, and he said regarding having AIDS, he said, you know, I guess this is what happens when you're a hustler. And in talking to him, I found out he was kicked out of his home and his. Only way to survive was street work. so I really appreciate that you hopefully open some eyes in that as well, because that happens way too often. Here in Hollywood, the, homeless rate of LGBTQ kids is unbelievable because they all come to California, especially Hollywood thinking is to be glamorous and exciting

Robyn Gigl:

I don't know what the statistics are in LA, California, but I can tell you in New York city, the statistic is 40% of all homeless kids in New York city are LGBTQ it's horrible.

Brad Shreve:

yeah, it's unreal. And yet not surprising.

Robyn Gigl:

it's, it's, it's not, unfortunately, because so many of those kids, it's not like they're, they're born and raised in New York and they're now homeless. They were born and raised in Oklahoma or Mississippi or someplace else. And you know, like the people that, that come to Hollywood thinking that it's safe and it's going to be glamorous. People make their way to where they think it's going to be safe, New York city, you know, progressive Northeast. And when they get here, there's nothing for them.

Brad Shreve:

Let's get into politics a little bit. and not, just politics, but the general society you transitioned in 2009, And I read a quote somewhere that you said, uh, let me get that correctly. You said people who referred work to me for 10 to 15 years suddenly stopped. The only thing that had changed was my name from Robert to Robyn care to share that experience.

Robyn Gigl:

Aye, aye. Again, so it was 2009. So. Kind of similar timeframe in terms of where the novel is set, where people were not as familiar with transgender people. And I think what the reaction was by some attorneys was, well, I can't refer work to her because what will my client think? When they find out that there, that she's transgender, how will that reflect on me? And they didn't want to have that conversation. And I don't think they should have their need to have that conversation in terms of I'm still the same lawyer I was, after, as I, as I was before, again, the only thing that's changed is, is how I look and what my name is. I'd like to think that I was even a better lawyer. After I transitioned because I was free to be me. that burden that I had carried around my, my whole life I put down. And yet, you know, maybe it was just the time and the place in terms of people not feeling comfortable. I don't know. I don't want to get into other people's decision-making processes, but it happened. There wasn't a whole lot that I could do about it. And life went on.

Brad Shreve:

well, what a difficult time period, just like, obviously it has now, but Obama was president during the time and he did sign the executive order to protect people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. So things were looking up

Robyn Gigl:

And here in New Jersey. in 2007, the state law against discrimination was amended to include gender identity. So, you know, I was theoretically protected, but the law doesn't necessarily change people's perspective or how they react to you. It's the law. And as I tell people, there's the law and then there's the reality.

Brad Shreve:

That is true. I don't want to stereotype the South, but I grew up in the South and yeah. By what the laws are. Uh, I can tell you, racism is lan was practically a social club in my high school, and that surprises people when I tell them that. But, but things were looking up and then we know what happened in November of 2016 things took a turn.

Robyn Gigl:

Yes, they did.

Brad Shreve:

How devastating. Was that to the community. What, there's a loss of hope or was it a call to action or both?

Robyn Gigl:

it was both, honestly, I think there were people who were so devastated and when you look at it, it's not just the LGBTQ+ community. I mean, look at what happened in terms of racial issues and ethnic issues and religious issues. You know, if you were a Muslim American, if you were a person of color, if you were a member of, of, of an immigrant community, I mean, so many things changed in that four year period. So I think there was a lot of despair and a feeling of. How could we be here after where we were and where we were going. And yet I think, and I, you know, I saw it, there was a resiliency and there was a, okay, we're not going to lie down and take this. We're going to, we're going to push back. And I think you see that in terms of the black lives matter movement. I think you see it in the LGBTQ+ community. I think you see it in the immigrant community. I think you see it in all of those communities that. For four years had targets on their back. And, and you know, you look at some of them, they've, you know, the, black lives people they've had the target on their back for 400 years. I mean, this isn't new to them, but I think people are, are saying, no, we're not going back back to where we were, where we're going to push forward. And look, it is discouraging. you take one step forward and you take two steps back. You feel that, that frustration that how can we be here? And yet, if, if you don't continue forward, you know, you just have to give up hope and, and I don't think I'm prepared to give up hope. And I think most people. Certainly in the LGBTQ+ community are not giving up hope where we're here. We're not going away. This is who we are. And, and you, you can think what you want about us, but we're, we're real. And, and this is who we are and we deserve to be here just as much as anybody.

Brad Shreve:

well, and things are looking up in a, in a sense. I know the, uh, you're on the New Jersey Task Force For Equality. Transgender is, uh, is not just as a Transgender Equality Task

Robyn Gigl:

the task force was, was for transgender equality and, and that wrapped up. Um, we issued our final report. You know, one of the, one of the things that was part of our final report was to make it. You know, a more permanent thing. Unfortunately, our report came out in November of 19 and then of course this little thing called a pain dedicated few months later. So I think its kind of been on the back burner, but yes, I, I was on the task force.

Brad Shreve:

the reason I brought up is things were looking a little better, the, uh, the governor of New Jersey, wanting to implement some of your recommendations that you gave, which I saw as a positive. we now have Biden in office, which is a positive. And I don't know if you're aware of recent HRC poll. came out that said 70% of voters across all ages, religions and political parties support the equality act. So it's looking good. But again, we have that precarious thing of, you know, these are given and taken away depending on who's in office and who's on the, on the judicial seat. What is your outlook in the long haul? I mean, I, I'm asking you to look in a crystal ball. I know that it's difficult, but.

Robyn Gigl:

so I like to think when I look at things from a generational perspective, I'm 68 years old. As I said, I was born in a different time in place. And so my mom was 96 when she passed, she was a different generation and they were, they had no real concept. So in terms of sexual orientation, gender identity, you know, my generation, maybe we progressed a little bit when I look at my kids generations, they're, they're all in their thirties. I mean, They all knew somebody who was transgender even before I came out. Uh, they all know somebody who who's gay or lesbian or BI or, or, you know, non-binary. So I am hopeful that has each successive generation matures and comes up and grabs the reigns of power from the next from the generation ahead of them. That they will have a better understanding and a better, as you said, just feeling that what's the big deal. I mean, why do I care if you're gay? Why do I care if you're trans? What I care about? Are you a good person? Are you honest? Did you help your neighbor? That's what I care about. So the bottom line is. I don't know if I'll live long enough to see it, but I am hopeful that as each successive generation comes along and has been educated to be more open and honest around these issues, that at some point we will get to the point where being gay or being lesbian or being trans is it's, it's nothing. It doesn't matter.

Brad Shreve:

Well, as long as we, and working on the race issue and have so far to go, I don't think either of us are going to live long enough to see things the way we want them to be, but I'm. I'm hopeful that we'll see things going in the direction that they should be.

Robyn Gigl:

agree with The race issue is the one that always tempers my own optimism in terms of. All minorities. I mean, if they, after 400 years, we can have racial equality, you know, what is wrong with us?

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. My daughter is 24 and. she and the kids, she went to high school with it. It was no big deal. Uh, it's like a non-issue her dad is gay and she, I did an internship and I believe it was in Lithuania working for the, I, they had a different name for it, but basically an LGBTQ center trying to get one started off the ground, which somebody tried to burn down, but they're, they're going, they're going in the right direction.

Robyn Gigl:

as the cliche goes, your lips to God's ears,

Brad Shreve:

Yes, exactly. Well, we're about to wrap up and you said you've listened to the show. So now it's time for awkward questions, authors get, and these I survey dozens of authors and these are just difficult or strange questions that they've been asked over the years. So I'm going to spin the wheel and we're going to see what you

Robyn Gigl:

Fair enough. Let's go.

Brad Shreve:

Why is your character gay?

Robyn Gigl:

why is my character gay character? Isn't

Brad Shreve:

Let's say, why is your character transgender?

Robyn Gigl:

Because I am a transgender woman and I wanted to write about a transgender character because that is my lived experience. And because there are so few authors writing about, and writing in their own voice, uh, about trans characters. I mean, for so often. Trans characters are the victims of the murder or, or the, the crazy psycho killer or something else. And I wanted to just write trans characters who were as normal and live their lives, just like everybody else. And I wanted them to be authentic and real, and I felt that uniquely, I guess I felt uniquely situated to be able to do that.

Brad Shreve:

Uh, in fact, I'm a little frustrated because after I'm done here, I'm going to have to do some editing and I would rather dive in and finally finish your book, but I'll get around to it probably tomorrow to remind the listeners. I have Robyn Gigl, who is the author of, By Way of Sorrow, which I'm happy to hear as the first Erin McCabe legal thriller, which implies there will be a second one. And it's been a pleasure to have you on. Thank

Robyn Gigl:

much, Brad. And it's been an absolute joy to sit and talk to you.