Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin is a gay icon. He is best known for Tales of the City which became a television mini-series. His new novel is The Night Listener and it is about a writer who reads his work on the air as a radio serial.

Details or Transcript:

The writer of the popular Tales of the City series, Armistead Maupin, talks to Michael Cathcart about his new book, The Night Listener

Michael Cathcart: Is gay lit an empowering category for Armistead Maupin?
Armistead Maupin: I'm very happy to have been honest about my sexuality all these years. But it never meant that I was trying to narrow my audience or that I was just writing for some people or about some people. I've always had a broad canvas in terms of what I try to cover in my writing.

MC: The Night Listener is a story told by a man called Gabriel Noone. Can you tell us about him?
AM: He's a radio story-teller, and he has a rather wide listenership around the country. He's just broken up with his partner of many years, so he's in a state of abject misery. He's been sent the manuscript to a forthcoming book by a publisher in New York. The book that he's sent is by a 13-year-old author in the Mid-West who's had this horrific childhood, in which he was basically sold into prostitution by his parents. But the book is so funny and brave and well-written that Gabriel decides he wants to contact this boy and tell him what a beautiful job he's done. And he does, he discovers that the boy has been listening to his radio show for a year or so and has started to see the storyteller as a father figure. These two unlikely people begin a friendship on the telephone, in which they're able to unload some of their secrets, especially matters of the heart. And out of that grows a mystery, that I don't want to talk about too much, because it gives something away... But I've always wanted to write a mystery story about the way the heart works, and that's what The Night Listener is - the closest I could get to that.

MC: You and Gabriel Noone, your narrator, have points of overlap. You don't seem uncomfortable with the fact that people want to identify the book with you.

AM: I'm not uncomfortable with it, but I want people to understand what I've done, which is to take myself and the people I love, and cast us in a sort of mystery story. I attempted to make it emotionally autobiographical, to tap into real things in my life, in order to give it resonance. But I've played fast and loose with the facts - it's not the way things happened.

MC: I can't help noting that Gabriel Noone is one touch of the space bar from being Gabriel No one. Are you tantalised by this postmodern fascination with the "death of the author"?

AM: I like playing with my readers in that regard. I know people are curious about me, and I like to be able to feed out bits and pieces. At the same time, if I wanted to write a memoir, I would be writing a memoir. I play with all sorts of ideas in The Night Listener, in terms of my own lore - there's a character in the book who was actually born in Tales of the City. These are just the games I like to play - I can't work that into any postmodern speculation about where the author has gone. I feel connected with my readers in a big way. I don't feel it's the text talking; it's me talking. I didn't realise for many years, but I actually write to be read aloud. Every paragraph of my work has to do with the cadences of my own speaking voice, what would most naturally come out of my own mouth. The audio version of this that I read is as much fun for me as the novel itself, especially given the fact that the narrator is a radio story-teller, so it becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.

MC: When you're sitting there at the word processor, are you actually mouthing the words as you go?
AM: Absolutely. I speak them out loud. It's quite a process - it's so slow for me. I get maybe two pages a day done on a very good day because I don't like to move from one paragraph to the next until I'm certain that I've got the music of it right - the flow of it.

MC: That suggests that your work belongs on the radio more than it does on the telly...
AM: Certainly, in The Night Listener, the nature of the mystery is all about the nature of voices - the way in which voices seduce us and cause our imagination to expand. It's a fascinating thing - radio makes the imagination reach outwards. You watch television and you're basically staring at a box. Radio allows the expansion of thought in a very dramatic way. And it also seduces in ways that television does not. Anyone who's ever ridden in a car late at night and listened to - say, you - on the radio, knows what the experience is: the intimacy, the way we connect with another voice. It's a very intimate bond. And I was fascinated by the way in which that would impact upon the central mystery of The Night Listener.

MC: Do you undertake, in some sense, to be vulnerable, to be honest about yourself...?
AM: I think that's an old habit. When I came out of the closet in a public way in my writing and in person, I felt a certain exhilaration about that. The more vulnerable I make myself, the more I tell the hard truths about myself, the closer it brings me to readers. People relate to it when you tell those kind of truths about yourself. They actually feel closer to you. So in some ways, it's a self-serving act to make yourself vulnerable because people give you credit for that in some ways...

I think it's why readers read and writers write. We want some proof that somebody else does it too. I've made a career out of trying to be honest about myself in whatever way is necessary, and it can be hard sometimes, but the payoff is enormous in the long run.

MC: In some ways, this is a novel about belief and having the courage to believe, but it's also a warning against gullability. Are you exploring the line between foolishness and belief?
AM: Somebody calls it the line between truth and self-delusion. I think that's very true. I think it's inherent in my personality that I want to believe and the more outlandish the story I'm told, the more I want to embrace it. And a lot of us are that way. Sometimes, someone else's story captures your imagination to such a degree that you feel as if you're a participant in their lives, and that can be very seductive. The interesting thing about The Night Listener is that a number of people have contacted me on the road. Rosie O'Donnell, the talk show host, called me to say that she had had a similar experience with someone who had excited her imagination in that kind of way. And I think there's a particular kind of personality - people who want to help out, who can make themselves vulnerable by believing when they shouldn't. I'm not sorry I do that, but it is a warning to myself.

This is an edited transcript of Michael Cathcart's interview with Armistead Maupin on Arts Today, Radio National, 10am


Thursday, October 5, 2000

Tales of the City Audio

Here's a snippet of Armistead Maupin reading rom Tales of the City from http://www.salon.com/audio/2000/10/05/maupin/index.html


I'm curious to find out if anyone has read these highly addictive books. I know my friend, Lylanne, has read most of them in the past week, yep, it's my fault she's been staying up until 2:00 in the morning...