Last year Instinct Magazine reported on how writer Byron Lane used the acknowledgments in his debut novel, A Star is Bored to purpose to his then-boyfriend, Steven Rowley, who is also a writer. Today, Rowley’s third novel, The Guncle is released, and to mark the occasion, this article will explain to you why you should read not only The Guncle, but also his first two books and listen to his short story available on Audible.
First, however, it’s time to get to know a little about Rowley. As stated in the biography on his website:
Steven has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently resides in Palm Springs with his husband, the writer Byron Lane.
You read that right: husband. Rowley and Lane got married on April 1 in a very intimate ceremony and both of them were sharply dressed.
Now onto Rowley’s books.
Lily and the Octopus
Rowley’s debut novel, Lily and the Octopus was released in 2017 and the description from publisher Simon & Schuster states:
Ted—a gay, single, struggling writer is stuck: unable to open himself up to intimacy except through the steadfast companionship of Lily, his elderly dachshund. When Lily’s health is compromised, Ted vows to save her by any means necessary. By turns hilarious and poignant, an adventure with spins into magic realism and beautifully evoked truths of loss and longing, Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.
What started out as a short story called “The Octopus” about Rowley’s dachshund named Lily turned into a novel that is a tribute to our canine friends. As the official description explains, the story is told through magical realism and captures magnificently the bond between a dog and its human. Have tissues on hand when you read this; it is a truly beautiful and heartfelt book.
Lily and the Octopus is available in hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and audiobook read by Michael Urie (Ugly Betty). Lily and the Octopus has also been acquired by Amazon Studios to be made into a feature film with Rowley serving as executive producer.
From Penguin Random House:
After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie–or Mrs. Onassis, as she’s known in the office–has fallen in love with James’s candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.
Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis serves as a character in Rowley’s sophomore novel which centers on a writer who sells his book to a New York publishing house and ends up with the former First Lady as his editor. The Editor explores the notion of how getting your dream can come at a cost, and also at the heart of the story is the complex relationship between a mother and her son. What Rowley crafts in this novel is a page-turner that will have the reader want to know what happens next.
The Editor can be purchased in hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, or audiobook narrated by Michael Urie. Greg Berlanti has optioned The Editor to film with himself tapped to direct and produce the film and Rowley is reportedly writing the script.
“The Dogs of Venice”
Released at the end of 2020 as an Audible Original, “The Dogs of Venice” is a short story by Rowley and the description by Audible explains:
New Yorkers Paul and Darren have planned a winter holiday in Venice. But when their five-year marriage suddenly unravels, Paul endeavors to make the trip alone, despite his heartbreak and anxiety. Far outside his comfort zone, Paul has a mission: to see if he can be adventurous, fearless, free. In short, to become someone new. Soon after arriving in Italy, he notices a small, scruffy, self-assured dog trot alongside a canal with the confidence he so desperately wants for himself. This street dog and his instincts for survival lend Paul’s trip a singular purpose—to determine how his new four-legged friend thrives on his own. A string of additional sightings culminate in a seemingly magical encounter that leads Paul to feel real connection—to a dog, to a foreign city and, most important, to himself.
Narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, “The Dogs of Venice” is an hour and twenty-one-minute journey to Venice with the main character Paul, who is in the “City of Water” after the end of his marriage. Like Lily and the Octopus, dogs play a large role in the story and Paul is mesmerized with a dog he sees one morning during his time in Venice. Hoping to learn how to not be needy, Paul roams the Italian city in search of the canine, learning things about himself along the trek. Listening to this short story, Rowley not only gives great visuals into what Venice is like but also hones in on the main character’s fears and insecurities and how he overcomes them to create a satisfying experience. “The Dogs of Venice” is available on Audible.
Inspired partly by the book Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and his own experience with spending time with his nephews when they visited him in spring 2018. Also from Penguin Random House, the publisher details:
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is, honestly, overwhelmed.
So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled acting career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting–even if temporary–isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.
The Guncle is a love letter to the gay uncles (guncles) and their love for their nieces and nephews and will keep the reader entertained from beginning to end. The main character, Patrick helps his young charges through the grief of losing their mother and teaches them the finer points of life like brunch and wearing caftans. Rowley brilliantly taps into the loss of a loved one and the grieving that comes after. As a bonus, in the acknowledgments of The Guncle, Rowley gives an answer to Lane’s proposal in his book, A Star is Bored. Rowley’s newest book, The Guncle is available now in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook narrated by Rowley himself.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one contributing writer and may not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors