top of page

Q&A with Lev AC Rosen – Lavender House

Lavender House

By Cariad Wooster.

We are very happy to welcome Lev AC Rosen to The Reading Corner to discuss his upcoming release “Lavender House”, out October 18th!

Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well-guarded secret – but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept – his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning.

When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.

Lavender House

Hi Lev! Thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions with me. I really enjoyed Lavender House. Seeing a murder mystery interspersed with life as a gay detective in post-WW2 America. It made the story even more compelling, especially when it came to Evander and the rest of the characters we meet.

Where did you get the inspiration for such an exciting and varied cast of characters?

Well, first, thank you so much for saying that! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. As for the setting and characters, Christie is probably the obvious inspiration. I think the book itself reads more noir, more Chandler, but the set-up, a family mansion just outside the city with a large cast of characters, each with secrets – that’s classic Christie. As for where each of them came from individually, it varies – I played with noir tropes like the femme fatale and the widow in distress, but I also just drew some folks out of the setting – what sort of person would be more risque in 1952? What sort of person would blend in?

The lavender house in question is meant to be a safe haven for the characters of the novel, being a place where the queer characters of the book no longer have to hide. However, it turns out to be a far less safe place than it appeared to be. What inspired the setting of the lavender house?

Again, it’s the Christie. I remember watching some adaptation of a Christie book and thinking to myself “this would be fun everyone were queer,” and so then… I did that. The idea of a safe have for queer people is one I’ve explored before, in Camp, and I love books with majority queer characters, so once that idea struck, it all sort of came together. This family needed a place to be themselves, and they already had the house, so the house becomes the haven.

Alice, as a character, is seemingly isolated from the rest of the cast living in the lavender house because she has nowhere else to go. She finds a friend in Evander who has just been ousted from everything he knew and also has nowhere else to go. Was Alice’s life meant to be a mirror to Evander?

Absolutely. I wanted Evander to see some of himself in Alice. Being straight, she’s the odd one out, and she clearly has some prejudices she’s still working through, but she’s there, living with this queer family. And because of that, she’s a little lonely, and Andy sees that because he’s been lonely for a long time. I wanted some resonance there, some real sympathy for Alice, even as she makes these microaggressive comments.

By writing a family where the majority of characters are queer, the isolation and secrecy surrounding the murder are only heightened, creating a very tense situation where Evander must try and solve the murder without outing any of the house’s residents or himself. Why did you decide to introduce this additional conflict throughout the story?

It was sort of impossible not to, considering the setting. Any sort of queer folks in the 50s are going to have the threat of homophobia and violence hanging over them. With this particular family, there’s a business threat on top of that, a threat to their livelihood. And that made sense because it was a reason not to go to the actual police. One of the taglines we throw around for this book is “when your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal” and it’s true. This queer family had created a safe haven, but it also meant they couldn’t let anyone else in. So the conflict, the fear of outing, that arises naturally from the setting and family I created.

Flower symbolism is present throughout the book, with the titular lavender having been associated with Sappho and lesbianism for centuries. Were there any reasons behind selecting the other kinds of flowers in the garden and the Lamontaine soap?

*laughs* I wish. No, no, I’m not very knowledgeable about flowers. I went by color, so the soap would appear in an array of 50s pastels. At one point, my mother, who is very knowledgeable about flowers, read a draft, and was like “this is blooming out of season” which is something I’d never even considered and had to start researching San Francisco planting seasons and climate and all of that. Lavender was the only one I knew I had to have because of the queerness – the family is centered around a Lavender Marriage – a gay man and lesbian getting married for appearances, something that was not uncommon in the 50s – so from there I actually worked backwards to the flowers, which led me wondering “why would they name their house after a flower” which lead to the soap. So lavender was a very thought out choice. The rest of them not so much.

Why did you choose Lamontaine to be a soap business over another industry that could have been associated with flowers?

Well, like I said, I came up with Lavender first. Lavender marriage led to lavender house led to a house surrounded by flowers. And then I had to figure out the why of that. Perfume felt more glamorous, but soap actually felt like the best choice because of the idea of cleanliness – which is fun in any murder mystery, people trying to get clean – but with a queer family in the 50s, queerness was associated with uncleaness – mentally, spiritually. So making them a soap empire made it even more important that no one uncover their secret. There’s something so 50s about soap, too. So suburban. If you were a suburban housewife in the 50s, you might buy glamorous perfumes from an effeminate bachelor and just tell yourself it’s European, but soap? Bars of family soap. That’s a family thing. You want a nice safe family to buy it from. So it just fit.

What books or authors would you recommend to fans of this book?

They recently reissued the David Brandstetter mysteries, by Joseph Hansen, and I’ve been reading them and they are amazing. These were written in the 70s (the first maybe was 69?) about a gay insurance investigator. Really great 70s California noir, matter-of-fact about queerness, just beautifully written. So those would be a great rec, if you’re looking for period queer noir.

Where can readers purchase this book when it is released?

It should be available anywhere books are sold; your local indie, B&N, or any number of online places. If your local bookshop doesn’t have it, just ask them to order it!

Lavender House

Lev Rosen writes books for people of all ages, most recently Camp, which was a best book of the year from Forbes, Elle, and The Today Show, amongst others and is a Lambda finalist, an ALA Rainbow List Top Ten and is being adapted into a film directed by and starring Billy Porter. His next book, Lavender House, will be released fall of 2022, and after that Tennessee Russo in Spring of 2023. He lives in NYC with his husband and a very small cat.

Lev’s Instagram: @LevACRosen


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page