MICHAEL TOLLIVER LIVES
By Armistead Maupin.
277 pp. HarperCollins Publishers. $25.95.
Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears has written a musical - and credits the project with 'saving' the band. The Filthy/Gorgeous hitmaker - who has been working on the spectacle based on Armistead Maupin's Tales Of The City series of novels for the past year-- insists focusing on the show has stopped him from lashing out at his bandmates and causing a split.
He says, "Sometimes writing for the band makes you feel like you could explode, you're so focused on making it good. That was a problem we had when we were making the second record Ta-Dah. We had no lives, it was all we did. Writing the musical has been a really fun diversion because you're not so focused on the one thing."http://www.hiphop-elements.com/article/read/4/8826/1/
SUE GILMORE: BOOKENDS
Maupin up for another awardContra Costa Times
Contra Costa TimesArticle Launched:08/05/2007 03:04:47 AM PDT
Tickets go on sale Aug. 20 for a new kickoff event for Litquake, the annual literary fest-on-steroids in San Francisco that brings lovers of lit out in droves over a nine-day period and culminates in a high-spirited "Litcrawl" in pubs down Valencia Street to the Mission.
This year, Litquake introduces the Barbary Coast Award and plops it on the deserving head of San Francisco author Armistead Maupin, whose famed "Tales of the City" written between 1978 and 1989, were, so they say, responsible for "putting San Francisco on the modern day literary map."
Maupin's tales became the basis of the 1994 PBS series starring Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal, mother hen to a brood of eccentric characters, some gay, some not, who lived on fictional Barbary Lane.
Maupin, whose latest novel "Michael Tolliver Lives" resurrects one of the characters from the series, will be on hand to receive his award at the Herbst Theatre event on Oct. 6 that will open the festival. Currently lined up to join him onstage are Amy Tan, Andrew Sean Greer, Michelle Tea, K.M. Soehnlein and Susie Bright, with other performers, musicians and guest stars to be announced. Tickets are $25 and will be available through City Box Office at 415-392-4400. More information will be posted at http://www.litquake.org.
VINO AND VERSE: Have you got poetry within? Can you get it out in 40 lines or less? If so, Livermore's poet laureate Connie Post invites you to belly up to the open mic at "Wine and Words," an ongoing poetry series at the Martinelli Event Center, 3585 Greenville Road in Livermore. The latest installment, catered by Garre Winery and Cafe, takes place from 2-4 p.m. Aug. 19. After scheduled presentations from featured readers Paul Hoover, author of 11 books of poetry including 2006's "Edge and Fold," and Jennifer Sweeney, whose "Salt Memory" came out in November, the podium is open to volunteer poets. Directions and a map at http://www.garrewinery.com.
ROMANCING THE ASPIRING WRITERS: It's high time to haul out the heaving bosoms and brawny bare chests, you would-be writers of romance novels. The Gather.com Web site, working in tandem with Simon & Schuster, launched its First Chapters Romance Writing competition on Wednesday, and they're taking manuscripts through Aug. 22. She (or he) who emerges triumphant gets a guaranteed publishing contract with Pocket Books, an S&S imprint, and a $5,000 advance. So submit your steamy manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org by the deadline, then go online and watch what happens.
During round one, from Aug. 27-Sept. 18, postings of first chapters will go up on romancenovel.gather.com, and the Web site regulars will vote to select 25 semi-finalists. In round two, Sept. 24-Oct. 8, the winners' second chapters get posted, and five finalists will be chosen. In round three, which begins Oct. 11, the four members of the Grand Prize Judging Panel (Pocket Books editor Lauren McKenna and editorial director Maggie Crawford, Gather.com CEO Tom Gerace and Borders romance buyer Sue Grimshaw) will select the winning novel, to be announced on Oct. 30.
PSSSST-- GOOD BOOKS, CHEAP! Every Saturday and Sunday through the end of August, the Lafayette Bookstore at 3569 Mt. Diablo Blvd. has 'em piled high on tables in the parking lot -- mass market paperbacks for 50 cents, trade paperbacks for a buck apiece and hardcovers for $2. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Bookends appears every other Sunday. Sue Gilmore is the Times book editor. Reach her at 925-977-8482 or email@example.com.
Nearly 20 years after the last Tales of the City novel, Armistead Maupin revisits his much-loved characters in Michael Tolliver Lives. As Kelly Apter discovers, it’s no slight return
Don’t judge a book by its cover, we’re told. And yet, for fans of Tales of the City, the front of Armistead Maupin’s new book tells us everything we need to know. A blossoming flower, a bright yellow backing, and those three little words we all long to hear - Michael Tolliver Lives.
Since the release of Sure Of You in 1990, Maupin’s final book in the series, the fate of Michael Tolliver has been a mystery. Over the space of six novels, we had watched Michael grow up. From his hedonistic days dancing in jockey shorts at The Endup disco, to his role as homemaking nurseryman (of the plant variety), we were always on his side. So when Michael was diagnosed as HIV positive, Maupin’s readers prepared themselves to lose a dear friend. Only to be left dangling for 17 years.
Now, finally, Maupin has put us out of our misery. Michael Tolliver Lives catches up with the former residents of 28 Barbary Lane, and finds Michael alive and well. But while we may have fretted over Michael’s health, did Maupin always know the character was still going strong? ‘Yes I did,’ he says. ‘Because I have a lot of friends with HIV who are still alive, and I never assumed that Michael had died. That was always my answer when people would ask me during that period - hence the title.’
Charting the lives of several gay and straight residents of San Francisco, Tales of the City started life in 1976 as a newspaper serialisation. In novel form, the stories have sold millions worldwide, and been adapted into a Channel 4 mini-series. Having written Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others and Sure of You, however, Maupin felt the need for a change. Maybe the Moon and The Night Listener followed, as well as a number of screenplays. So why choose to write about Tolliver and co now?
‘Because I felt like it,’ says Maupin, laughing. ‘I know it’s hard not to sound like a petulant child when you answer that question, but that’s really what it was. I had explored other realms, and I was ready to visit those characters again.’ But Michael was only one of a number of key characters in Maupin’s series - why choose him rather than Mary Ann, Mona, Brian, Mrs Madrigal or any of the other, peripheral figures?
‘I wanted to write a novel about an ageing gay man living in the Castro district of San Francisco,’ explains Maupin. ‘And it struck me that Michael would be the perfect person to tell that story. Initially I didn’t intend to bring in the other characters, and I was quite adamant about that. But they began to audition and keep me awake at night with their demands. So I let them in one by one.’
Unlike the preceding six books, which jump from one character to another, Michael Tolliver Lives is written solely in first person. Given the change in format, Maupin stated early on that this latest book was not the seventh book in the series, but a stand-alone novel. This was a suggestion which puzzled all who read it.
‘That’s the problem with Google - you say something once and then you see it reprinted 400 times,’ says Maupin. ‘I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble about that comment, because everyone tells me that in fact it is a continuation of the story, even if the format is different.’ One slight difference, however, is the pace.
At the start, Maupin had to hook readers and bring them back to the San Francisco Chronicle each day. So heartstopping moments and jaw-dropping cliffhangers abounded. Not only that, but Michael, Brian, Mary Ann et al were all young devotees of the San Francisco lifestyle, burning bright in the fast lane.
When we join Michael this time, he’s a 55-year-old gardener with a husband. And while the book still throws dramatic curve balls at you, and some fantastically dirty sex, there’s a more relaxed tone throughout.
Was it the absence of serialisation or Michael’s advanced years that caused that? ‘It was probably a little of both,’ suggests Maupin. ‘I certainly didn’t feel the need to bring readers back day after day. But I think it’s also my instinct to want to build a certain amount of suspense into anything I write.’
Throughout the Tales of the City series, comparisons have often been made between Maupin and Michael. But now, they seem more prevalent than ever. At the age of 63, Maupin recently married his 35-year-old partner, Christopher, while Michael has done likewise with Ben, a man 21 years his junior. Similarly, Maupin’s observations about the changing face of San Francisco are voiced through Michael.
‘I plundered about the same amount of my life to create him as in the other books,’ says Maupin. ‘But the whole process of writing fiction is basically channelling characters through your own experience. Yes, there are elements of Michael that are very close to me. But I don’t consider myself to be him or him to be me. He’s a little bit me, a little bit who I’d like to be and a little bit who I’d like to sleep with.’
Aside from all the inherent humour and snapshots of San Franciscan life, Michael Tolliver Lives also has a heart. Despite claiming otherwise, Michael’s deep desire for his mother’s approval is hugely touching. And one particular moment towards the end of the novel will cause many readers to shed a few tears.
‘There was a parallel in my own life. I brought Christopher home to meet my father, who was just months away from death. And my father could not have been more generous or loving to Christopher. When we were leaving the house, he had a few words with him alone and said “you take care of that boy” - meaning the 63-year-old you’re talking to now.’
Having re-submerged yourself in the lives of these complex, vulnerable, funny and hugely likeable characters, it’s hard to let them go again. Thankfully, we don’t have to.
‘I’ve just contracted to do another book about Michael,’ says Maupin. ‘And one of the other major characters will make a much longer appearance in the next one. So it’s not the end.’
..dropstart-->Gore Vidal did it. Edmund White did it. Augusten Burroughs made a career doing it. But Armistead Maupin is one gay literary titan who will never do it: Write his memoirs, that is...dropend-->
"All memoirs are selective memory," Maupin declares, bringing to mind a concept from his 2000 novel The Night Listener called "jewelling the elephant" -- or tweaking the bare facts so that a greater truth is revealed. "I come closer to the truth by pretending I'm not telling it."
With his silver hair and warm smile, the 63-year-old author resembles a less rotund, Southern Santa Claus. And he has the same air of good-natured benevolence, like someone who, at any moment, might surprise you with a special gift.
For his legion of fans, gay and straight, that's what he's been doing all along.
Maupin burst onto the literary scene with Tales of the City, which began as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. Long before Bridget Jones click-clacked her way through the pages of the London Independent (with the help of Helen Fielding), Maupin chronicled single life in the big city with his quirky cast of characters.
There was Mrs. Madrigal, the irrepressible landlady who taped joints to her tenants' doors; Brian Hawkins, who quit the law to wait tables and have as much sex as possible; and Mary Ann Singleton, the Cleveland transplant so naÃ¯ve she thought an offer of "coke" meant someone wanted to give her a soft drink.
But most memorably, there was Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, the joker of the group, but also the glue who seemed to hold them all together. By 1989's Sure of You -- the sixth and, until now, final book in the series -- it was pretty clear that Tolliver was occasionally a stand-in for Maupin himself.
Each came from a conservative Southern family. (Maupin even worked for the notoriously homophobic Jesse Helms.) Each felt happiest in his adopted homeland of San Francisco. And in some cases -- such as "Letter to Mama," the heart-wrenching chapter in 1980's More Tales of the City in which Michael comes out to his fundamentalist parents -- it seemed as if Maupin were working out his personal demons right on the page.
Indeed, the closest he may ever come to an autobiography is his latest novel, Michael Tolliver Lives. The title character, like Maupin, is an introspective gay San Franciscan who first spies his decades-younger husband on the Internet. In the book, the Web site goes unnamed; in real life, Maupin's husband, Christopher Turner, runs the matchmaking site DaddyHunt.com.
If Tolliver is, arguably, Maupin's most personal novel, it's also one of his angriest -- though he didn't mean to step on any soapboxes. The references to Terri Schiavo, GuantÃ¡namo Bay and the war in Iraq were simply a storyteller's attempt to capture what one character refers to as "this cold new [political] climate." Maupin's taking his time to decide which presidential candidate has "balls." (Though this may sound like an indirect dig at Mrs. Clinton, it isn't.) But in the meantime, the Vietnam veteran has a few choice words for George W. Bush -- who, he says, is "making all the same excuses" he heard when he was in combat.
"They're taking young men and women with noble intentions and making them fight for Bush and his family," Maupin says with disgust. He began writing Michael Tolliver Lives, he says, before the public reached a "widespread consensus" that the war was a mistake. Happily, by the time it was published, most of the country had caught up with "those wacky San Franciscans."
These days, when Maupin is working on a project, he writes from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. -- though, he adds with a self-deprecating chuckle, "There are very few circumstances under which I like to write." The time between novels has been filled with movie projects, such as the unproduced screenplay for the fourth "Tales" novel, 1983's Babycakes, co-written with Maupin's former partner, Terry Anderson. (Maupin declines to say whether the two are still in touch.)
"Babycakes," the movie, was shelved indefinitely when the cable channel Showtime, which aired the miniseries of "More Tales" and "Further Tales," "went out of the movie-making business" to focus on new shows such as "Weeds." It was exactly the right time for Maupin's work to transition from the small to the big screen. Director Patrick Stettner cast Robin Williams as a very Maupinesque writer in 2006's "The Night Listener," which the author proudly refers to as a "creepy little bloodless thriller."
But if Maupin now tops the bestseller lists and hob-knobs with the Hollywood elite, a few things, at least, have stayed the same. On a productive day, he churns out two pages -- about the length of one of his old Tales columns for the Chronicle. And he still mines his personal life for details, whether writing about Michael Tolliver, The Night Listener's Gabriel Noone, or Cady Roth from 1992's Maybe the Moon ("my most underrated novel").
"I have, in essence, been writing my memoirs," Maupin concedes. "But I've been doing it through my characters."
Matt Zakosek, a Chicago free-lance writer, has never been the same since reading Tales at age 12.
NY Times Book Review
By Armistead Maupin.
277 pp. HarperCollins Publishers. $25.95.
Armistead Maupin's enormously popular "Tales of the City" series, published between 1978 and 1989, told the story of a disparate group of San Franciscans brought together under the roof of Anna Madrigal, a transsexual lady of a certain age who ran a boarding house on a street called Barbary Lane while growing marijuana on the side. Reviving a 19th-century tradition, Maupin wrote the Tales in the form of a serial, with installments appearing daily in The San Francisco Chronicle. After "Sure of You" came out in 1989, Maupin declared that the series was finished, and went on to write two other novels. He changed his mind, however, and now he brings us "Michael Tolliver Lives," a sort of coda to the Tales, in which he catches us up on the many characters who populate the earlier books — and in particular on Mike Tolliver himself.
As the first chapter opens, it is 2006, and Mike, at 55, is surprised to be alive. Twenty years ago he was certain that he would die of AIDS; now, much to his own bewilderment, he's thriving, thanks to "a fine-tuned mélange of Viramune and Combivir." Life is good for Mike: he owns his own house, runs a successful business as a gardener and landscape architect, and was recently married to Ben, who is handsome, charming and 21 years his junior.
And yet, let's not forget that we're in Armistead Maupin's San Francisco. Thus Mike's burly assistant, a self-proclaimed "bear cub" named Jake Greenleaf, turns out to be a female-to-male transsexual with whom Mike once had a gender-bending one-night stand. Mike found Ben, on the Internet, on a site devoted to older men and their admirers, on which Ben identified himself as CLEANCUTLAD4U. And their wedding was part of the communal ceremony that took place at San Francisco City Hall after the city declared marriage between same-sex couples legal, with Mayor Gavin Newsom presiding, "so young and handsome and ... neat ... that he actually looked like the man on top of a wedding cake."
As for Anna Madrigal — the doyenne of Barbary Lane, played so memorably by Olympia Dukakis in the PBS adaptation of the series — she's now 85, and has moved from her boarding house to a small apartment where she watches lovingly over the three young "trannies" upstairs. Along with Mike, she's trying to keep an eye on Shawna, the daughter of Mike's straight best friend, Brian. Shawna has grown up into a sort of Outward Bound explorer of the erotic wilderness, whose adventurings — recounted on a widely read blog — include a stint working at "the Lusty Lady, a peep show in North Beach that recently became the nation's first worker-owned strip club." Even the domestic bliss that Mike shares with Ben is distinctly San Franciscan in flavor, with Ben casually giving his older husband testosterone injections and the couple negotiating just how open they want their marriage to be. ("You're too young to be monogamous," Mike tells Ben. "And I'm too old.")
Such, though, is life in the city that Mike's Orlando-based relatives call "Sodom by the Bay" — a life whose audaciously self-conscious particularity Mike finds alternately delightful and exasperating. Reflecting on a restaurant menu's description of ingredients as "artisanal" rather than "homemade," he observes: "Sometimes Northern California just wears me ... down, and I get fed up with our precious patois, our fetishizing of almost everything." It's as if, for Maupin as much as for Mike, a certain malaise has settled in; as if "the City" they love so well, with its population of latex fetishists, foot worshipers and people who like to have sex in clown costumes, has started to seem even to them a little too, well, cute.
Like its predecessors, Michael Tolliver Lives" is a novel only in the loosest sense of the term. The chapters are independent yet interdependent, flowing into one another gracefully while remaining very much singular entities. If there's a plot, it's a casually constructed one, culminating in the simultaneous collapses of two very different women: Mike's "biological" mother, dying in a nursing home in Florida, and his "logical" mother, Anna, hospitalized in San Francisco after a heart attack. The choice of which bedside to run to — of which mother is the real mother — provides some dramatic tension, if only in the final pages.
The most interesting part of "Michael Tolliver Lives" is probably the sequence of chapters that takes Mike and Ben to visit Mike's family in Orlando. It's here that Maupin catches his stride as a writer, displaying in great furls of prose both his instinct for comedy and his linguistic verve. He gets Central Florida spot-on: the McMansion in which Mike's sister-in-law, Lenore, enlists his
proto-gay great-nephew, Sumter, in constructing puppets for her Christian puppet theater; the Gospel Palms nursing home, in which Mike's dying mother strikes up a friendship with her black hairdresser (with whom Mike and Ben later have a three-way); the gay B&B owned by "a pair of retired Italian queens from Queens" who each night leave an orchid floating in the toilet bowl.
All this is rendered with balance, good humor and compassion. And indeed, if I have a complaint about "Michael Tolliver Lives," it may be that for all the pleasure it takes in its own transgressiveness, it comes off as a little too nice. For example, what in the '70s we called "four-letter words" pepper the novel, yet they're almost always used as terms of endearment. No conflict lasts for more than a few sentences, every flare-up is becalmed by sweetness, and though all the characters are interesting, none are difficult. I once heard the British actress Mollie Sugden observe in an interview that there could be no comedy without threat. Yet for all Maupin's ponderous references to George W. Bush, Enron, Abu Ghraib and AIDS, threat is oddly remote from the landscape of "Michael Tolliver Lives." On the contrary, the characters live in a landscape more distinctive for its buffered gentleness than its dangers.
Despite this, the book is great fun to read. Maupin is a master at sustained and sustaining comic turns. Of these, my favorite is probably the story of Carlotta. Carlotta, to be precise, is the name Mike and Ben have given to the voice in which their Toyota Prius's navigation system gives them directions: "female, elegant and a little bossy." On a trip through the Southwest, Ben, noticing a chill in the air, tells Carlotta, "Seventy-two degrees." She answers that "there is no fifth destination." Realizing Carlotta must have misunderstood him, Ben asks: "If that's the answer, what's the question?"
Unfortunately, like so much else in this novel, Maupin domesticates this moment of spectral strangeness, much as the city he loves and loathes domesticates the perverseness in which it also takes such pride. "From that moment on," Mike tells us, " 'There is no fifth destination' became our all-purpose pronouncement. ... It became our way of saying 'big deal' or 'who the hell knows?' or 'lighten up, for God's sake, you won't get out of this alive.' "
All very nice. And yet I couldn't help wondering: What would Nabokov have done with Carlotta?
David Leavitt's novel "The Indian Clerk" will be published this fall.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/books/review/Leavitt.html?ex=1183608000&en=21026be71f25e78d&ei=5070
Monday, June 11, 2007
Unlike his friend Nora Ephron, Armistead Maupin doesn't feel bad about his neck. Sure, it's a little creaky -- a touch of arthritis -- but he looks on the bright side. "I wake up in the morning with the loveliest guy in the world, with incredibly geezery aches and pains," Maupin says with a laugh.
His point is, he wakes up. And he does so -- with his husband, Christopher Turner, a Web site entrepreneur -- in a cozy aerie, tucked in the woods above Parnassus Avenue at the top of a zigzag of brick steps.
The house has a spectacular view of the city, as does Maupin, creator of the beloved "Tales of the City" series.
Started in 1976 as a newspaper serial following the adventures of the various eccentrics living at 28 Barbary Lane (a stand-in for Russian Hill's Macondray Lane), "Tales" ran for years in The Chronicle, spawning six books and three television miniseries.
After 18 years, Maupin has returned to Barbary Lane with a new book -- "Michael Tolliver Lives," out Tuesday from HarperCollins -- which is another love song to Maupin's adopted home.
Tuesday, the city returns the compliment; Mayor Gavin Newsom has declared June 12 "Michael Tolliver Day in San Francisco."
Unlike its predecessors, the new book is written from the point of view of Tolliver, the sweet male Southern belle.
"I was nervous that people following the series might be thrown off by a first-person novel that has all the characters treated equally," says Maupin, settling into a deep champagne-colored couch and looking very Brooks Brothers in a green gingham shirt and crisp khakis. But as the book took shape, he couldn't resist giving preferential treatment to some of the characters.
"They started auditioning for me, begging for a place in the chorus line," he says. These folks are still kicking, despite the devastation of AIDS and advancing age, and therein lies the theme of Maupin's newest "Tale."
"I wanted to illuminate the process of growing older as a gay man, and make it easier for people who think life is over," he says. "Gay men who are growing old are incredibly lucky to be here."
Maupin's life hasn't been untouched by AIDS; like so many, he lost a loved one. The optimistic outlook he has today has been hard won.
"But if I'd known that 63 was going to feel this good, I would have been a lot more cheerful along the way," says Maupin. He and Turner, who is 27 years younger, were married this year in Vancouver, British Columbia; Turner runs a Web site for gay men over 40 who are searching for younger partners.
"Age is the last closet you come out of in the gay world," he says, and that's more than just a snappy coinage.
"There are such gloomy visions of gay men aging. But if you worship beauty above all else, if you worship sex above all else, you're in trouble. If you're not working on your heart every second, you are going to have a very sad old age."
The walls of Turner and Maupin's terraced Arts and Crafts cottage are lined with paintings, photographs and mementos.
A photo-portrait of Maupin by David Hockney hangs in the tin-lined stairwell. Facing it is a sultry watercolor of Turner by Don Bacardi, partner of author Christopher Isherwood (a mentor of Maupin's). Nearby is a pencil sketch of Ian McKellen as Gandalf, a self-portrait the actor left as a gift on his last visit.
Among the treasures displayed on a beautifully figured oak table by the front window is a gilt-edged edition of "Mademoiselle de Maupin." French writer Theophile Gautier's 1835 novel is the story of a woman seeking truth and beauty through cross-dressing. The character is one of the inspirations for Anna Madrigal, the transsexual landlady in "Tales of the City" who was played on film by Olympia Dukakis.
Also holding places of honor in Maupin's home are the sepia portraits of his maternal grandmother. She was an English suffragist, theosophist, palm reader and actress who moved to Asheville, N.C., during the First World War. One photograph shows her wide-eyed and in character as "The Madwoman of Chaillot," a satirical French play from the 1940s. Maupin saw her perform when he was a boy, and still recalls the moment she took the stage in that role at the Raleigh Little Theatre, rising through a trapdoor in a curtain of dry ice.
She would often read his palm and ask what he wanted to be when he grew up. "A lawyer, like Daddy," he would say, and she would close his palm tenderly, with a look that said "probably not."
When he last visited her, at a convalescent home in Virginia, "Tales of the City" had just been published. At 95, she was dressed up as always, but she didn't know him. On an impulse, he reached out his palm. "Teddy," she said, using his family nickname, "you're in your 30s now."
Through "Tales of the City," Maupin became an activist.
"We've had a revolution over the years, and I'm really happy to have been part of it," he says. "My whole career has been motivated by my determination that people shouldn't have to be in the closet. I'd spent time there myself."
Some newer fans of "Tales of the City" may not know how far he has come. Growing up in a prominent North Carolina family, Maupin was an "adamant young conservative." He began writing while in college, with a column in the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was "part Art Buchwald, part William F. Buckley."
After serving in the Navy, Maupin returned from Vietnam a vocal supporter of the war. Through his father -- whose law firm ran the Congressional Club, a fundraising arm of the conservative right -- he went to work for North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms. "It's my so-called dark secret. I was Helms' golden boy," he says. "I think I've done enough to atone." In a twist Maupin relishes, Helms later condemned the film of "Tales of the City" on the Senate floor.
But looking back, "being a conservative and in the closet go hand-in-hand, because it's easier if you insist everyone else keep the lid on," he says. "The Rev. Ted Haggard is no rare exception." Haggard, a Christian-right preacher, was outed last year by his longtime male escort.
A move to California helped spur Maupin's self-acceptance -- but not right away.
"I was moving to San Francisco to work at Associated Press when I got a call that the president wanted to see me three days hence," he says mischievously.
Helms had recommended him to President Richard Nixon ("a terrified little man") as a potential counter to John Kerry, the charismatic member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War whose 1971 speech -- "how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" -- electrified Congress.
"It's bitterly ironic to me now," Maupin says, "because in the last election Kerry was nowhere near left enough for me."
When he finally did report for his AP job in San Francisco, his editors -- intentionally, he thinks -- sent him to cover a peace march downtown. "That's when I saw my first public nudity," he says fondly.
His own coming out was gradual, and San Francisco, he believes, made all the difference. "It opened my heart," he says. "It let me examine my own bigotry. And it let me have a good time doing it."
Maupin has more than returned the favor. After all, in his seven Dickensian "Tales" -- inspired by his own adventures and those of his friends -- the real protagonist is the city by the bay.
Tuesday is "Michael Tolliver Day" in San Francisco. Armistead Maupin will appear at 12:30 p.m. at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, #42, San Francisco, (415) 835-1020, www.bookpassage.com; and at 7 p.m. at Books Inc., Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco, (415) 776-1111, www.booksinc.net.
Maupin revisits ‘Tales of the City’ hippies
But thankfully for fans worldwide, Maupin's newest book, "Michael Tolliver Lives," revisits many of the same larger-than-life characters that propelled "Tales" from a weekly San Francisco Chronicle column to six books and a Showtime mini-soap opera.
The book debuts Tuesday, when Maupin kicks off a tour and Mayor Gavin Newsom declares "Michael Tolliver Day" in San Francisco.
Instead of randy hippies who smoke joints, as they did when the series began in 1976, the aging lefties of "Michael Tolliver Lives" pop joint and arthritis pills. Instead of plotting nightly sexual conquests, as they did as 20-something singles, many profess shock at the level of promiscuousness practiced by today's youth.
The book — which would certainly earn the literary equivalent of an R rating — centers on Michael Tolliver, the endearing Southern gay man who came to San Francisco in 1971 and lived at 28 Barbary Lane. Now Michael is in his mid-50s, a mildly arthritic and HIV-positive landscape architect married to Ben, a handsome furniture designer and yogi 21 years younger.
Michael first spots Ben on an Internet dating site, and a chance meeting in a coffee shop results in romance. They get hitched over Valentine's Day weekend in 2004, when the city began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Except for Ben's weekly forays to bath houses in Berkeley, they're homebodies who watch sappy movies and tease each other about their lack of cooking skills.
"I wanted to tell the story of a gay man getting older — especially one who thought death was imminent and is now confronting normal mortality," Maupin, 63, said in the living room of his 1907 Craftsman overlooking the San Francisco Bay. "I didn't want to say it was a 'Tales' sequel because I didn't want to disappoint fans."
For readers looking for updates on "Tales" characters, Maupin delivers. Mary Ann, the straight-laced girl from Cleveland who moved to San Francisco to find a husband, is now a wealthy wife in Connecticut. Brian, once a sex-crazed heterosexual who relished his bachelor status, is a single father uncertain whether to embrace or stifle his precocious daughter's bisexuality.
Politics play heavily in novel
The biggest difference between "Michael Tolliver" and earlier installments is Maupin's emphasis on politics. Several chapters take place near Orlando, Fla., where Michael visits his dying mother and introduces Ben to his born-again Christian relatives.
Michael bristles at Dick Cheney, the War on Terror, the radical right's influence in Washington. His relatives — racists and homophobes who live in a mansion and drive SUVs and a gas-guzzling boat — pray that he'll pick a straight "lifestyle" and repent before he goes to hell.
Maupin, a North Carolina native and Vietnam War veteran who came to San Francisco in 1971 as a reporter for The Associated Press, says the novel's political edge mirrors the polarization between red and blue America. It's also the logical result of Michael's maturity, he says.
"By the time you've reached my age, you're a lot less tolerant of bull---- from your family, even though the bonds still connect you and you still want to please," Maupin said. "We've made progress from utter invisibility 30 years ago to prominence in the cultural scene, but with that prominence has come a more rampant form of homophobia. My hope is that we're close to the time that homophobia takes on the status of racism today — normal, mainstream people don't accept it."
Maupin didn't create Michael Tolliver in his own image; the author's relatives welcomed his husband, Christopher Turner, into the family. But other parallels are obvious.
Maupin first saw Turner three years ago on an Internet site for older gay men, which Turner founded and runs. Maupin refused to solicit a date online and figured he'd never see Turner in real life.
Weeks later, he spotted Turner walking in the Castro, the city's gay enclave. Maupin stopped him, they exchanged numbers, dated, moved in together and married in Vancouver in February. Turner is 27 years younger than Maupin.
"I'm blessed to have found a man who loves me for who I am," said Maupin, who has bright but watery eyes and ruddy cheeks. "I am trying to be the best 63 I can — and I'm happy that I don't have to try to impersonate a man of 35. I want the novel to convey the fact that love, sex and connection are still there for us as we get older, just like it has been for me."
Tales of the City, the enormously popular series that Armistead Maupin began in 1974, is set at number 28 on a quiet, tree-dappled lane in San Francisco; Maupin himself lives at number 27 on a quiet, tree-dappled lane in San Francisco. After an interval of almost 20 years since the last Tales of the City book, Sure of You, Maupin's new novel, Michael Tolliver Lives, is published on June 18. Michael, the much-loved gay character who appears throughout the series, is now in his 50s and enjoying unexpected marital bliss with a much younger man, whom he first spotted on a gay dating website before serendipitously running into him on the street; Maupin - which the author pronounces, with a determined lack of pretension, as "Moppin" - is now in his 60s and recently married a much younger man, whom he first saw on the internet and then bumped into on the street soon after.
There are many other parallels between Maupin's work and his life. The novelist Patrick Gale, one of Maupin's closest friends, observes: "The thing with Armistead's work is that it's so inextricable from his personality. This is true with a lot of novelists, but especially so with him because he so blatantly mines his own life for material." In his Tales, Maupin has taken what Gale describes as his "'Madame Bovary c'est moi' syndrome" to extraordinary lengths, spreading his personality among the characters, from gentle Michael to the out-of-towner naif Mary Ann Singleton to Mrs Madrigal, the wise landlady with a mysterious past.
Maupin explains that because he kept his homosexuality a secret until relatively late in life, and led "a secret interior life for so long, it has always felt very natural to bounce between very different characters". The Night Listener, one of two books that are not part of the Tales series (and which has been made into a film starring Robin Williams), seems to be the most closely autobiographical of all his novels. It tells of a popular San Franciscan storyteller, Gabriel, who made his name through "grabby little armchair yarns ... My characters were a motley but lovable bunch, people caught in the supreme joke of modern life who were forced to survive by making families of their friends" - which, in self-deprecating fashion, pretty much sums up the Tales series.
Maupin concedes that his novels "are all emotionally autobiographical, and I often need the fires of real life to get the fiction going. But I tamper with the facts to such a degree that I don't see them as autobiographies ... As long as it's fiction, you can get to the truth without embellishment. Vanity comes into play once the author starts suggesting that this is reality." It is for this reason, perhaps, that the book he feels closest to is Maybe the Moon, the story of a Jewish female dwarf's search for stardom in Hollywood: "I could say the most intimate things about myself and look into the darkest corners of my soul through her."
This sense of liberation coincided with his own self-discovery around the time he started to write Tales: "I've been very open about myself for years because, once I came out, I felt such exhilaration about telling the truth that I thought it had endless possibilities." He even came out to his parents - a conservative lawyer and housewife in North Carolina - in the same manner as Michael, who, in the second book of the series, writes a letter to his parents telling them that he is gay. Maupin wrote that letter when he was 33 - "too old".
Maupin was born in Washington DC in 1944 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. A shy, unsporty boy, he compensated by storytelling: "I was the one who made everybody sit around the campfire and listen to my version of North Carolina ghost stories. I was quite humiliated at sports, so it was wonderful to discover when I was 10 that I had the power to control people that way." His favourite books as a child were the Hardy Boys mysteries, which "really whetted my appetite for storytelling", and the influence of their gripping storylines and cliffhanger chapter endings is clear in the Tales. A slightly later, and perhaps more surprising, influence were the films of Federico Fellini, which showed him that "there was another world out there with a great variety of humankind, far more than I could imagine in North Carolina".
Maupin was expected to follow in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer. However, law school proved to be rather uninspiring, so he "flunked out - although, if you ask my parents, I left". He then, improbably, worked briefly at the TV station of the notoriously rightwing senator Jesse Helms: "It was something I did to please my father, because deep down I knew I had this secret that would one day blow him out of the water," he says.
In the late 60s he enlisted in the navy and was posted to Vietnam, where his chief job was taking an admiral's wife and the wives of visiting dignitaries on shopping trips in Saigon - "they knew what to do with the queer boy". He also spent several months on the Cambodian border, where there were "a couple of mortar attacks but mainly it was pretty safe".
When he returned to the US, he worked for Associated Press in Charleston, and was posted to San Francisco when he was 27. He immediately loved the city, but hated the job, feeling restricted by the facts, the deadlines and the formulae, preferring instead "to spend hours polishing my prose". He quit after five months and wrote "a little weekly serial" for the local newspaper, Pacific Sun, about a woman who recently moved to San Francisco and the people she met in her building. In 1976, a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle spotted it and recommended it to the newspaper's publisher. This became Tales of the City. "So I came in and met this very stuffy old gentleman and I said I wanted to write a serialised story about a new girl in town, not telling him who the new girl in town really was ..." Maupin recalls with a wicked laugh.
Even in the relatively liberated atmosphere of mid-1970s San Francisco, Maupin's tales of the lives of gay men in the city were a shock. There were references to bath houses, drugs and men cheating on their wives with men, but rarely any graphic details, and at first any suggestions that two men might be sleeping in the same bed were made obliquely.
After two more years of writing the column, Maupin was approached by a publisher to collate the instalments into a book. He spent two weeks hammering them together in Rock Hudson's house - with a dismissive wave, Maupin says he'd met the actor "in the usual gay way, there was a party ...", and they were briefly lovers, then lifelong friends - and these became the first two books in the series.
The tone was strikingly new. "It's not so much that he gave the gay world a voice, but that he gave it a sense of humour," says Peter Burton, the former literary editor of Gay Times. "Much of what was coming out of America at that time was either very po-faced or pulp." The novels were so unusual that it was rumoured that Maupin was a mysterious pseudonym, an idea aided by the discovery that his name is an anagram for "is a man I dreamt up". When one reader accused him of being "a lesbian collective in Marin County", he solemnly replied: "Sometimes I feel like a lesbian collective in Marin County, but I'm not."
Although Maupin's characters deal with highly emotive issues, not least Aids, the writing is always warm and lightly humorous, thereby bringing into the mainstream subjects that were still fairly off-limits at the time. But it was Maupin's depiction of gay and straight men comfortably mixing together that was particularly new. "He dared to remind the increasingly self-ghettoising gay communities around the world that life might be healthier and happier lived somewhere a little more mixed," says Patrick Gale. "He also dared to say that gay people can be air-headed jerks at a time when all gay fiction felt honour-bound to portray gay men as cute or victimised."
It is possibly for these reasons that some gay critics in America criticised Maupin, and continue to do so today. In Europe, Maupin is far more accepted by what he calls "the gay literary mavens" than he is in the States. In America, he didn't even make the Publishing Triangle's recent top 100 gay and lesbian authors, whereas he beat homegrown authors such as Sarah Waters and Alan Hollinghurst to win Britain's Big Gay Read. In The Night Listener, his doppelgänger narrator Gabriel confesses that he feels "illegitimate as a writer, as if I'd broken into the Temple of Literature through some unlocked basement window". But Maupin was very comforted by some advice his friend Christopher Isherwood gave him early on in his career: "Don't let anyone put you in a cubbyhole of being 'a gay author', and don't be embarrassed to create entertainment."
Michael Tolliver Lives, unlike the preceding Tales, is written in the first person, from the point of view of the eponymous Tolliver, who is now HIV positive. Maupin "lost whole generations of friends - and readers, I might add - to Aids, and I listened to their stories and try to appropriate them". The book also contains many swipes at the current political situation in the US - including references to "phony Florida elections", "secret American torture camps" and "a far-from-intelligent president". He wanted "to record the times and the fabric of San Francisco discourse".
Maupin has been compared to Mark Twain and Jack London for putting San Francisco on the literary map, and has become something of an urban landmark himself: taxi drivers point out his house, and Quentin Crisp once introduced him with the flourish: "This is Mr Maupin, he invented San Francisco." "It makes me incredibly proud, I love this city - it is part of my soul now," he says.
The elegiac tone of Michael Tolliver Lives has led some to assume that it is the last in the Tales of the City series. "Not at all," Maupin smiles. "I'm rejuvenated and this is the first chapter of a new series."
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