Monday, January 26, 2009

Honest Talk With the Outspoken Maupin

Author Armistead Maupin shoots more than the breeze with OutSmart's Blase DiStefano

How appropriate that Armistead Maupin is part of our Gayest & Greatest issue-he's way GAY, what with being extremely open and honest about his sexuality, and he rates GREAT, what with being a best-selling author and a damned good writer. Maupin is probably best known for his TALES OF THE CITY series of books, which produced five best-selling books and two wildly popular television mini-series, with a third on the way. TALES OF THE CITY and MORE TALES OF THE CITY interwove gays with straights with bisexuals with transgenders with AIDS with dope with sex. If you haven't read them, take some time to do so-they were ahead of their times and are still considered controversial. If reading doesn't flip your wig, rent the two videos, which are true to Maupin's originals. And now available for your reading pleasure is Maupin's newest piece of fiction, THE NIGHT LISTENER. (True Maupin die-hards have been listening to a "radio serialization" version of the novel read by the author on from Sept. 5 to Sept. 29, an Internet first-"like having Uncle Armistead read to you every night before bedtime," Maupin describes it.) Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy these nonfiction tales.

OutSmart: Hi, this is Blase.
Armistead Maupin: Hi, Blase, it's Armistead Maupin.

How are you doing?
I'm fine, how are you after all these years?

Well, I'm fine. The last time we talked was 1985.
Back when you were with TWT, right?

That's right... So, I read your book [THE NIGHT LISTENER]. It's wonderful. It's been so long since your last one. What took you so long?
Well, I wrote and produced two mini-series. I was actively involved in TALES OF THE CITY and MORE TALES OF THE CITY. I was there on the set...

That's why they were so good.
Thank you, I believe that, too [laughs]. It's important for the writer for any property to remain close to the material, to see it survive. Especially something this personal. It would be so easy to get it wrong culturally. So I've been present for that, and I spent about a year and a half adapting my last novel, MAYBE THE MOON, as a feature film and have yet to find a producer. There's been a fair amount to occupy me and a story that was very slow in coming. I had the general mystery outlined in my head for a long time, but I was lacking an additional dramatic element which life managed to provide for me when Jerry and I broke up four years ago. I realized I could weave the experience of that into this little mystery.

What percentage of the book is...
True? [Laughs] It's FICTION, Blase. Writers write from every aspect of their own lives and weave it together. In some ways it's not true at all, so I won't even go down that road with you. I'd like to think it's all emotionally true. I tried to stay very close to my feelings when I wrote that novel and expose them, warts and all. I made myself a promise to be as honest as possible even when it was unattractive.

I actually started reading it at around 6:30 or 7:00 one evening and I didn't put it down until it was around 1:30 or 2:00. I finished the book.
That's just what I like to hear [laughs]... That continues to be the strongest drive I have when writing-the need to make people want to keep reading.

At the end of that first chapter, I was in tears. And then the story changed, and I was enthralled.
Good. Do me a favor when you write about it-try to stay as mysterious as possible without giving the surprise in the middle of the book.

Consider it done.
A couple of the advance reviewers gave very positive reviews but almost all of them went too far, [which] was tremendously frustrating.... Most of my life I've been inspired by the film VERTIGO. It had a big impact on me when I was a kid and it still moves me in ways that surprise me, especially now that I'm approaching Jimmy Stewart's age. And I've always wanted to write a novel that was about human longing and obsession that stays very close to the bone emotionally, but that completely turns you around halfway through.

And that it did. So, you're coming to Galveston in October.
I'll take your word for it [laughs].

Trust me, you will be here in October [doing a speaking engagement].... I wondered what that entails.
It'll entail reading the first chapter of the book, probably the first chapter, usually is. And chatting with the audience and answering questions. It's what I like to do the most. It allows me to have direct interaction with the readers. So I'm doing that and a number of gigs in seven or eight different halls around the country.

I'm glad that Galveston is one of them. That should be neat because the Grand 1894 Opera House is an intimate little place. It'll be perfect.
Yeah, it fills my age-old desire to tell stories directly. I used to do that when I was eight years old-you know, make my friends sit down around the campfire and tell ghost stories. It's changed a bit, I just make a living at it. Still the same little queen I was then.

[Laughs] So how is FURTHER TALES OF THE CITY coming?
FURTHER has wrapped. And it's being edited as we speak. It should be on Showtime in April or May of 2001.

So, what do you think?
Oh, I'm thrilled to death. It's twice as sexy as the other shows.

I can deal with that.
I thought you might like that. All of the actors get naked at one point. They've been extremely generous in that regard.

Is Thomas Gibson...
He died in the last one.

Oh, stupid me.
He's furious about that, by the way. I talked to him a few days ago, and he doesn't like to even hear me talk about the new show: "You could have let me come back as a ghost or something." But he remains a dear friend, but unfortunately we killed off Beecham last time around. Billy Campbell's coming all his naked beautiful glory. And so is Paul Hopkins. We have the whole cast from last time around, including Mother Mucka (Jackie Burrows) who wasn't actually in the book. I never really dealt with what happened to Mother Mucka and I decided this time around I wanted to flesh out that storyline. And Lea DeLaria plays a bush pilot in it.

A what pilot?
A bush pilot. What other kind would you expect? It's like an Alaskan float plane pilot who flies through the bush.

[Laughs] Oh, that is too perfect.
She had such a laugh out of that. She wanted us to credit her that way on the credits, where it would say, "Lea DeLaria as The Bush Pilot." And Joel Grey has a cameo this time around playing the guy that presides over Rock Hudson's Boy Party. Rock Hudson is called Cage Tyler in FURTHER TALES OF THE CITY, not because I felt any compunction about avoiding naming him, but I was afraid viewers would spend their whole time saying, "That's not Rock Hudson." So we made him into a sort of generic closeted superstar named Cage Tyler. It happens that the actor we picked has some qualities that are very like Rock. So it was quite eerie for me to watch that portion.

Because you were friends with Rock Hudson.
Oh yeah, and the pathetic little sexual escapade you'll see in FURTHER TALES was drawn from my own life. [Laughs] It's pathetic, you'll see. It's in the book that way, but it's basically Michael...well, never mind. Lots of kissing, lots of humping. I think it's sexier, funnier, sadder, faster, and more adventurous.

And on Showtime!
Yeah, so far there have been no restrictions whatsoever. Several times I stood in front of the monitor during a love scene and found my own jaw dropping [laughs]. I turned to this woman producer and said, "Oh my God, are we doing this?"

Are you concerned about the editing process at all?
Oh sure, and I'll have a chance to look at the rough cut, to make suggestions if I feel the directors made a choice that doesn't comply with what I imagined the scene to be. But I also trust our director a great deal. We've come to know each other very well and like each other. His name is Pierre Gang. And he's gay and has a wonderful combination of sentiment and liberal sexual attitudes. And a great visual sense.

I may have to order Showtime just for that. The only other thing, when you were doing CELLULOID CLOSET, did you write that with other people?
I wrote the narration myself.

Then Lily Tomlin came in and narrated.
Oh, you don't want me to dredge up that tired old thing all over again.

What I was going to say is that I had read, probably a couple of months ago, that she actually came out.
You know, if Lily Tomlin had come out a couple of months ago, it would have been big news.

It was in a little publication.
That's where it always is.

Oh, so you think they just made it up?
I don't know, I don't know. She's been walking the line for such a long time that I've lost interest whether she's in or out. If she came out, it would supplant Ellen DeGeneres, you know. Lilly Tomlin's a major established star. The sad reality is it's too late for Lily. She had her chance and she missed it. And Ellen made that abundantly clear when she came out.

And it was remarkable, too. I'm not really jaded when it comes to that.
Oh, I'm hugely moved by what Ellen DeGeneres did. I have no patience whatsoever with gay people who find fault with her in any way. It's hard to imagine how she could have done it with more class. I don't know if you've seen her new HBO special. It's funny and honest and just gay enough. And totally her. I was sitting all by myself just hooting.

I'm looking forward to the video. And thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
You're very welcome, Blase.

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