Sunday, November 12, 1989

Maupin's `Tales' series finally hits the big time

Fans mourn end of San Francisco story begun in '76
Author: Maureen Harrington, DENVER POST

An agitated lady approached Armistead Maupin at Category

Six bookstore in Denver last week to ask the author of "Tales of the City," "I'm straight, is that OK?"

"I told her that was fine, as far as I knew," said Maupin. "And then she burst into tears. I felt terrible. Evidently she really loved `Tales of the City' and this is the last of those books I'll write. She said she'll miss all of the characters."

That teary fan has a lot of company. Maupin's series chronicling the adventures and misadventures of a group of straight, gay, black, white, Asian, young and old San Franciscans has had an enormous following in both the original newspaper form (carried in the San Francisco Chronicle) and softcover collections.

After 12 years, Armistead Maupin has finally made it into hardback and onto The List.

Maupin's "Tales of the City" series has been running since 1976. But this final edition, "Sure of You," came out in hardback, deep lavender in color. With it Maupin has, he jokes, "made it to the big time at last." Even The New York Times' best seller list has opened its hoary arms to the final "Tales," which is No. 15 this week.

Maupin is excited about hitting The List, but even that institution tickles his funny bone.

"Not too long ago a reporter from The New York Times called me and said that they had heard rumors that there was a singles scene at the Safeway in the Marina." His Southern drawl deepens just slightly. "I told the esteemed reporter that that `scene' was the starting point of my newspaper and book series nearly 12 years ago."

"It was time to go on and do something else," said this Southerner with country club gentility and wicked humor. "But then the earthquake happened and I was out on the road promoting this book and I thought: What would everyone from `Tales' be doing? How would they respond to this?"

But he's going to let it rest.

Maupin is busy getting his next project on the road: a dramatic collaboration hopefully bound for Broadway.

"Glen Roven, a wonderful composer, asked four very different short story writers to contribute to this project. He felt that he could capitalize on the short story boom going on in America. He wrote a score for each `playlet' and is mounting it first at Vassar and then we're going to debut in Cleveland.

"Just my luck. I've been making fun of Cleveland in `Tales' for years and now I have to go there and face the music."

Maupin's short story is based on a real life incident. A number of years ago, his sister had visited San Francisco, depressed about a love affair only to find her brother madly in love.

"It's about a straight sister and gay brother and how it is that they deal with love," said Maupin.

"Terry, my lover, insisted that his part be written as Asian in the story," said Maupin. "It's a great idea and added another important aspect of San Francisco to the plot."

Having finished the short story and the adaptation for the play, Maupin is turning, with some trepidation, to a novel.

"Lillian Hellman once said that writing the first book isn't hard, the second one is. I think of this novel as my second book and the collection of `Tales' as the first. So, I'm not talking too much about it in case it all goes up in smoke."

And the characters from "Tales of the City" have ridden into the sunset.

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