Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Armistead Maupin Interview

Thanks to Tim Brunsden for bringing this to my attention.

Armistead Maupin, celebrated author of Tales From The City talks to Lou Muddle on his new novel Mary Ann In Autumn ;After the intimate first-person narrative of Maupins last novel, Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn marks the authors return to the multi-character plotlines and darkly comic themes of his earlier work. Among those caught in Mary Anns orbit are her estranged daughter, Shawna, a popular sex blogger; Jake Greenleaf, Michaels transgendered gardening assistant; socialite DeDe Halcyon-Wilson; and the indefatigable Anna Madrigal, Mary Anns former landlady at 28 Barbary Lane.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Armistead Maupin opens next chapter in Tales of the City series

Mary Ann in Autumn, the eighth instalment in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, was released earlier this month and he told The Hour why his story has kept going for thirty years.

26 November 2010 16:50 GMT

The literary character Mary Ann Singleton first arrived in San Francisco 34 years ago and her life since then has been immortalised by author Armistead Maupin. Originally serialised in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Tales of the City series that she starred in has now become eight novels and been dramatised on screen. After twenty years away from ‘Frisco, she finally makes her return in Maupin’s latest work, Mary Ann in Autumn.

Now 57, she has aged as her creator has aged. Like her, he first arrived in San Francisco young and naïve. There he found a city far more comfortable with his homosexuality than he was, and ultimately he flourished there. For Mary Ann, the city wasn’t such a success:

“She left in kind of a bad way,” Maupin told The Hour. “A lot of people didn’t like the character by the end of the sixth book because she’d left her husband and child to go pursue a career in television.
“It didn’t pan out for her so she ended up stranded in suburbia in Connecticut, but now she’s had a couple of major life crises that have brought her back and the only person she feels she can talk to still is her old best friend Michael Tolliver, a gay man who’s her age, in his late 50s.”

When Maupin first began writing about his eccentric cast of characters he never could have imagined the success they’ve now had. As well as his eight novels, his stories have been dramatised as TV series and Scissor Sisters front man Jakes Shears is now collaborating with Tony award-winning writer Jeff Whitty to produce a musical.

Although his success has taken him by surprise, Maupin did have his suspicions why the characters had so much resonance:

“It’s very hard for me to analyse my own work but I think there’s a sense of family, a sort of modern urban family. I use the term you’re ‘logical family’, as opposed to your ‘biological family’, meaning the one that you make for yourself.

“Sometimes that includes members of your biological family but not always. I think that people respond to that: the notion of a big inclusive household where people are chasing love in all different directions and connecting with each other and making friends with each other in the process.”

For Maupin, one of his best friends is American actress Laura Linney, who starred as Mary Ann in the TV mini-series of his first three novels. When he married his partner two years ago, she came to the wedding and read a poem that had figured in their courtship. Four months later, she asked him to read the same poem at her wedding.

“We’re very bonded and I think we always will be,” he said of her. “Mary Ann in Autumn is actually dedicated to her.

“She serves as a kind of literary aid for me now because I hear her voice when I write the character and that makes it so much easier. I used to hear my own and I couldn’t quite separate myself.”
Mary Ann in Autumn is out now.

Video interview at the link

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tale Wagging

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mary Ann is back where she belongs

FICTION | Returning character to San Francisco brings return to form for Maupin in ‘Tales of the City’ novel

November 14, 2010
BY MISHA DAVENPORT mdavenport@suntimes.com

As a longtime fan of the “Tales of the City” books, Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco saga, I prefer to believe that 2007’s Michael Tolliver Lives never happened.

The first book in the series, Tales of the City, was set in 1976 and opened with seemingly naive Cleveland native Mary Ann Singleton turning her back on Ohio to take an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane. As far as I am concerned, the series ended with 1989’s Sure of You. That’s when Mary Ann packed her bags and abandoned her husband, adopted daughter and friends for a job in New York.

Until now.

Mary Ann in Autumn is a return to form, with Maupin once again returning to a third-person narrative (he shifted to first-person in Michael Tolliver Lives). The resulting book is a heart-warming and life-affirming tale that should please fans as well as those new to the series.

After a 20-year absence, Mary Ann returns to San Francisco. Now 57, she’s facing her autumn years with much uncertainty and returns to the playground of her youth to lick her wounds. Her once-promising television news career went bust and the once-independent Mary Ann spent the last decade or so as a housewife — until her Republican husband had an affair with her life coach, of course.

Despite being abandoned by Mary Ann 20 years ago when he began to get sick from AIDS, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver welcomes her back with open arms, even offering her shelter in the detached, one-bedroom cottage on his property. Tolliver’s much younger husband, Ben, is less than enthused.

Meanwhile, Anna Madrigal, the pot-growing, transgendered matriarch of 28 Barbary Lane, where Mary Ann and Mouse both once lived, has survived a stroke and is now a “transmother” to her pre-op, transgendered caregiver, Jake Greenleaf.

Rounding out the cast, Mary Ann’s estranged and bitter adopted daughter, Shawna, is in a committed relationship with a pier clown named Otto. After Shawna befriends a dying homeless woman named Leia, she sets the novel’s mystery into play as she attempts to discover who Leia was and thus lend some meaning to the deceased woman’s life.

As the mystery unfolds, the plot threads begin to connect in surprising ways, uniting strangers and long-lost friends and family. This has always been Maupin’s biggest point. Though we may feel isolated and alone while living in big cities like Chicago, New York or San Francisco, we cannot shuck off our inherent humanity and — at least in Maupin’s books — the world continually reminds us that we are all connected.


Author Armistead Maupin: Jake Shears has done a great job on my musical

 Andrew Williams
16th November, 2010 

Author Armistead Maupin, 66, is best known for his Tales Of The City novels which started as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. He returned to the series after an 18-year break in 2007. The latest book in the series, Mary Ann In Autumn, is out now.

One of your new characters is a female-to-male transsexual. Did you have to do much research?

One of my friends is a transman who was enormously helpful when I was writing the character of Jake. He told me to ask whatever I wanted. I write about what’s going on around me.

Were you surprised by anything he told you?

I got a clearer vision of what it must be like to be someone who was born female but who now wants to be a man loving a man. That’s the situation with my character, Jake. He goes to gay bars looking for male companionship but doesn’t have the one thing a lot of the guys in the bars are looking for. That makes my own romantic quandaries pale by comparison. Gender and sexuality are completely fluid and independent of each other. I’ve been exploring that notion since 1976.

Weren’t your publishers unsure if they wanted to include the character in the last book?

That’s true. I had the same problem with Anna Madrigal, the male-to-female transgendered character, 34 years ago when Tales Of The City was written as a newspaper column. They refused to include the fact she was a transsexual until the column had been in print for at least a year. They thought it was possibly threatening to their readers.

Is it depressing you’re still facing the same issue 30 years on?

Publishers always trying to read the minds of the public. I had an editor and agent tell me I went too far in the last book when I got specific about gay sex. There were probably people who were put off by it but I don’t care. I’ve always tried to keep the story true to my own emotional landscape.

Have things got better or worse for the gay community in the US since you started the books?

It’s got both better and worse. People forget 35 years ago the subject of homosexuality was taboo. Now the subject is open and stories about people fighting for their rights are covered in the news. But as a consequence churches and politicians have become organised against it. In some ways they’ve made life more of a torture for gay teenagers today.

Is that what’s behind the recent spate of gay teenage suicides in the US?

Yes, it’s not about stopping bullying in schools it’s about stopping bullying in the pulpits. There’s a YouTube campaign called It Gets Better in which gay adults address gay kids. They’re saying ‘enough is enough’ and they’re supporting young people. Parents who rail against homosexuality in front of their children are, in the cases where those children are gay, committing child abuse. They’re torturing their children over something they can’t change.

Why’s the situation more extreme in the US than it is in Britain?

The fundamentalist sects don’t have a grip on your country the way they do on ours. You wisely threw out your Calvinist witch hunters 400 years ago but they landed in the US and have never gone away.

Do you have any unusual writing habits?

I write and re-write endlessly before I proceed with the next paragraph. Writers’ manuals often tell you to spill it all out and go back and re-write it but I don’t.

How’s the Tales Of The City musical going?

They’ve just done the first presentation and it’s set to open in June 2011. I wasn’t familiar with Jake Shears’s music before he was proposed as composer and he’s done a great job.

What’s been your most extravagant purchase?

I bought a small antique woven Native American basket for my husband for his birthday. The tribe that lives near us in the mountains made it and the dog ate it.

Mary Ann In Autumn published by Doubleday is out now.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Bee Book Club: Armistead Maupin brings latest 'Tales of the City' to Sacramento

By Allen Pierleoni
Published: Monday, Nov. 15

SAN FRANCISCO – The ancient wooden gate is so impenetrable and intimidating that it could be guarding a fortress. It's at sidewalk level on a hilltop cul-de-sac in Parnassus Heights, and bears a two-digit address.

It's not "28," but it's close. The street name isn't Barbary Lane, either, but it might as well be.

Novelist Armistead Maupin lives in the century-old house behind the gate, and he constructed 28 Barbary Lane. The address is the best-known one in the Bay Area and far beyond, that of a fictitious apartment house he "built" in 1974.

That was the year the residents of 28 Barbary Lane – a mixed crew of emotionally laden gay and straight characters – debuted in the San Francisco edition of the Pacific Sun, under the title "The Serial." It moved to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976 as "Tales of the City," told in installments that ran weekdays.

Now, 36 years later, Maupin's eighth "Tales" title has been published. "Mary Ann in Autumn" is The Bee Book Club's choice for November.

Behind the gate, Maupin's home is crowded with bookcases, framed art, pottery, family photos and mementos. In the back garden, above a hot tub, is a green street sign that reads "Barbary," a prop from the "Tales of the City" TV miniseries starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney.

Maupin shares the three-story house with his husband, Web developer Christopher Turner, and Philo, their Labrador retriever-standard poodle hybrid. The bouncy "Labradoodle" sleeps in "the world's most luxurious dog crate in our bedroom. It comes with its own Tempur–Pedic mattress," Maupin explained. "We couldn't give him any less than what we have."

In retrospect, two things about "Tales" are clear: Maupin had great fun writing the epic, and the books are very much a history.

"One of the thrills of writing installments for a newspaper was I could react in the moment to what was going on," said Maupin, 66. "When Anita Bryant launched her anti-gay campaign in 1977, the next day I had (character) Michael Tolliver's mother writing from Florida, telling her gay son she'd joined Anita Bryant's campaign. I've been telling the same story in real time since 1974. So (the 'Tales' books) serve as time capsules."

"Mary Ann in Autumn" (Harper, $25.99, 287 pages) resumes the story of "drama queen" Mary Ann Singleton and her longtime gay friend, the affable (and HIV-positive) Tolliver, 20 years after Mary Ann left San Francisco to seek a high-profile career in New York. Now she's returned to the city, where, of course, things have changed.

"Certainly when we revisit our pasts we have to confront the consequences of not only our actions, but our inactions," Maupin said. "It's sometimes the things we didn't do that we regret the most. For me, it (involves) people I wish I'd talked with longer, who I now see as a link to a past I'll never be able to connect with again. I'm looking at all that through Mary Ann's character."

'Tales' opened a door

In the day, the "Tales" serializations and the three novels to come out of them were shocking because they opened the door to the gay lifestyle unseen by most straight people.

"There were gay people who complained that I revealed too much about the so-called subculture," Maupin said, "but I'm not writing about gay people – I'm writing about everyone, for everyone.

"Still, I'm very proud (that) I didn't keep gay life in some precious little bubble. I said, 'These are people who live in the same building as you.' "

The "Tales" books are known for their wit and satire, but Maupin presented a more serious agenda, too.

"There's a lot of frivolity, yes, that's how I was able to drive across issues such as AIDS, lesbian mothers, gay-bashing and the gay- marriage movement. The first fictional death from AIDS appeared in 'Babycakes' in 1983 (after a friend died of it). My rule from the beginning has been to follow my own life, and I go wherever it takes me."

That path led him to document the stories of the GLBT community – gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender – in San Francisco.

"Sometimes history can be better told through art than by historians," said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. "Gay men read Armistead and say, 'Here's our true story. It's being told by someone who understands it.' "

"Armistead has been a crusader who has supported many (gay) causes both in fiction and reality," added Teddy Witherington, executive director of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. "In the stories, Michael Tolliver was a member of the Gay Men's Chorus for a while, so in some of the programs (to our shows) we actually put in his name because he was such a role model for us."

A news background

Maupin grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and still has traces of a Southern accent. His father was a trial lawyer; his mother, an actress.

"I come from a very verbal background," he said. "Telling stories was natural to me and extremely comforting, because it was the one thing I knew how to do better than the other kids."

After getting a bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Maupin served as a naval officer in Vietnam. Later, he settled for a while in South Carolina and worked at the Charleston News & Courier (the Post & Courier since 1991), and then applied to the Associated Press.

"They offered me San Francisco, which I thought was wondrous," he recalled. "I was 26. I packed everything into a white Opel GT and drove across the country."

The newcomer felt "instant acceptance from the straight friends I was making. That made me lighten up on the spot. My heart opened up, my creativity opened up, and I started imagining the stories I could tell about such a place. I was smart enough as a writer to know that the (gay lifestyle) hadn't been covered in a popular milieu, such as a newspaper."

Maupin quit the AP after five months "and promptly found myself jobless for several years. I took odd jobs and was happy to do anything that would allow me to live here."

Those jobs included temporary office work through Kelly Services, handing out fliers on street corners, selling Thai silk at a shop on Union Street, and unloading mannequins from a warehouse "with a guy who closely resembled Lenny from (John Steinbeck's) 'Of Mice and Men.' "

Chronicle picked up 'Tales'

Were thoughts of "Tales" percolating? Was he taking notes at cocktail parties and in Castro Street Laundromats?

"I had the vague notion that I wanted to write about an address that I could make famous," he said. "I've always been intrigued by the connection between literature and our sense of geography. As I child visiting Atlanta, I wanted to look for Tara (the mansion in 'Gone With the Wind'). I knew it was a fictional locale, but I sort of wanted to know where it would be anyway. Instead, I saw Peachtree Street."

Maupin's breakthrough came in 1976, when editors at the Chronicle approved the "Tales" project.

"They said, 'We want six weeks' worth in advance,' which meant 30 episodes. I flew into panic mode," he recalled.

Later, when Maupin prepared to write the first "Tales" book, "I put all the (newspaper installments) on the floor and rearranged them. Some story lines were lost, others were improved. They were basically the first draft of my book."

Things are going well for Armistead Maupin. His upcoming book tour will take him to cities along the West Coast of the United States and, later, to England, Scotland, Australia, France and Germany.

The debut of a musical version of "Tales of the City" is planned for a June opening at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

"I'm doing so little of the work on it," he said. "I get to watch."

And what about "Tales," the ongoing saga? Will the former residents of 28 Barbary Lane continue their dramas in the city so loved by and identified with their creator?

"Yes. No. I don't know yet, but I think so," he said, punctuating the comment with his signature loud laugh. "That's the honest answer."

Armistead Maupin's eight-book "Tales of the City" series has been called "a glittering and addictive comedy of manners (showing) the follies of urban life." They have been translated into

15 languages and have sold more than 6 million copies


Maupin's bibliography is composed of the "Tales" books – "Tales of the City" (1979), "More Tales of the City" (1982), "Further Tales of the City" (1982), "Babycakes" (1984), "Significant Others" (1987), "Sure of You" (1989), "Michael Tolliver Lives" (2007), "Mary Ann in Autumn" (2010) – and two stand-alone novels, "Maybe the Moon" (1992) and "The Night Listener" (2000), made into a movie starring Robin Williams.

Information: www.armisteadmaupin.com


What: The author will give a presentation, answer questions and sign copies of "Mary Ann in Autumn" and his other books.

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento

Information: (916) 321-1128

Cost: The event is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-seated basis. "Mary Ann in Autumn" is $25.99. Get 30 percent off the title through Thursday at these bookstores: Borders, Barnes & Noble, Book Lovers, Avid Reader at the Tower in Sacramento, Avid Reader in Davis, Time Tested Books, Underground Books, Carol's Books, Hornet Bookstore at CSUS, the UC Davis Bookstore and the Bookseller in Grass Valley.

In retrospect, two things about "Tales" are clear: Maupin had great fun writing the epic, and the books are very much a history.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/15/3184927/bee-book-club-armistead-maupin.html#ixzz15MAZixPC


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back to the City

Armistead Maupin
Published: November 12, 2010

In 1974, Armistead Maupin, then a young journalist, covered a story on a Safeway supermarket in San Francisco that had become a popular pickup spot. Local customers, gay and straight, were not, as it turns out, shopping only for wheat bread and alfalfa sprouts, nor were they willing to talk to a reporter. Undaunted, Maupin created his own spokeswoman: a fictional young Midwesterner named Mary Ann Singleton.

So taken with her was he that he began publishing short stories about Mary Ann and her friends, which in 1976 were serialized in The San Francisco Chronicle. That serial would go on to become a best-­selling, internationally beloved multi­volume opus — one that begins when the naïve Mary Ann arrives in San Francisco for what she thinks will be a short visit, falls in love with the city and decides to stay. She takes a room in a boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane, which is run by the droll and dignified Anna Madrigal, whose warmth and good will create among her tenants a sense of family. One of those tenants is Michael Tolliver, a young gay man who becomes Mary Ann’s closest friend and one of the series’s central characters.

In 1978, the series was published as a novel, “Tales of the City,” and was embraced by readers for its frank and funny depictions of contemporary San Francisco. Several more “Tales” followed, ending (or so Maupin claimed) in 1989, with the sixth installment, “Sure of You,” in which Michael is dealing with his own H.I.V. diagnosis and Mary Ann, hoping to trade in her big-fish, small-pond life as a local television host (“Her face was on the side of buses”) for larger celebrity on the national stage, takes a job in New York, deserting her husband and daughter, deserting San Francisco, and deserting Michael.

But if Maupin was done with “Tales,” it wasn’t done with him. In 2007, he came out with “Michael Tolliver Lives,” which he insisted was not a new installment but rather an “intimate and simple novel of daily life in the Castro.” Soon, however, Maupin recanted, admitting not only that the book was the next “Tales” installment, but that he had yet another still in mind. Et voilà: the tenderhearted and frolicsome “Mary Ann in Autumn.”

It is the late fall of 2008, and Mary Ann has returned to San Francisco after an absence of 20 years. Much has changed. Anna Madrigal’s once diversely populated and lively apartment house on Barbary Lane has been bought by new owners and renovated into a single-family dwelling, and every trace of Mary Ann’s bohemian life seems to have been erased. The once creaky but always welcoming gate now has a lock and buzzer, and a security camera has been installed under an eave, preventing Mary Ann from snooping around even for nostalgia’s sake.

“It all goes so fast,” Mary Ann thinks. “We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and it’s over before we know it. We lose everyone we love, if they don’t lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract us from that reality.”

This sense of the ephemeral engulfs Mary Ann, who at 57 has, as the title suggests, entered the autumn of her life — a life that has been recently and abruptly rocked by two devastating crises. Having nowhere else to turn, she reaches out to Michael Tolliver, the friend she once abandoned. But in returning she’ll also have to face her estranged daughter, Shawna; her old friends DeDe and D’orothea; the young transgender gardener Jake Greenleaf; Anna Madrigal, now in her 80s; and Michael’s young and spirited husband, Ben — all of whom have reasons to mistrust her motives for coming back. Longtime readers may wonder if, in Maupin’s Californian cosmology, Mary Ann isn’t having some serious karma visited upon her, what Shawna calls “bad juju.”

To say more about Mary Ann’s predicament would be to reveal the many secrets and surprises that drive the novel’s elaborate plot, which involves Facebook and old photos, dogs and blogs, pedophilia and drug addiction, and some restless ghosts from Mary Ann’s past. It is precisely the elaborate plotting, however, that is the novel’s weakest part. For under­neath all the rigging and staging, all the convenient coincidences and improbable encounters, Maupin has built Mary Ann a solid narrative, has given her not only a story, but an entire life.

Mary Ann’s is a tale of long-lost friends and unrealized dreams, of fear and regret, of penance and redemption — and of the unshakable sense that this world we love, this life we live, this drama in which we all play a part, does indeed go by much too fast.

Joseph Salvatore teaches writing and literature at the New School. His story collection, “To Assume a Pleasing Shape,” will be published next year.


Friday, November 12, 2010

"Mary Ann in Autumn"

Karl Arbuthnot               

Of all of the icons of contemporary gay culture, few figures remain as poised and revered as celebrated author Armistead Maupin, and fewer still retain the timeless affection that is bestowed upon Tales of the City, Maupin's groundbreaking, sprawling series of books first published as a newspaper serial in 1974.

Mary Ann in Autumn, the eighth novel in the long running saga, is a welcome return to form after a near 20 year hiatus was resurrected in 2007 with the eagerly awaited Michael Tolliver Lives. Return to form, however, may be a little inaccurate, as Maupin is – extraordinarily - rarely off it in the first place.

The latest chapter in the eccentric soap opera sees the beloved Mary Ann Singleton, now a gracefully ageing 57 year-old, return to San Francisco with important news for Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver, who is now cosily loved up with his charming husband Ben and in business with the adorable and wickedly named trans-gendered gardener Jake Greenleaf. The happy domestic set up is only crowned by the addition of Roman, the epileptic dog.

Taking refuge in the happy-couples backyard cottage, Mary Ann attempts to rebuild her life and return to the simpler lifestyle she abandoned when she up and left for New York to pursue a dubious short lived affair with fame and celebrity. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter, popular outspoken sex-blogger Shawna, becomes tangled up in the mysterious life of a homeless woman whose fate will ultimately lead to some astonishing revelations. Overseeing proceedings within the new age, barking bohemia is, of course, the legendary Anna Madrigal, landlady and Buddha-esque wise woman of 28 Barbary Lane.

With Mary Ann in Autumn, Maupin has not only kept up with the series’ consistent line of lightweight humour balanced with poignant observation, but also managed to reflect a delicate and subtle passing of time. The narrative still weaves effortlessly in and out of the numerous characters’ stories, and the charming details as characters pass each other unknowingly in and out of each others' lives before gradually being pulled closer and closer throughout the novel is handled with such deft aplomb that at no point are you ever in doubt that you are in the hands of a true master story-teller.

The tale is also so bang up to date with Mary Ann’s induction to Facebook and other, weirdly current pop-culture references, that this latest addition feels so vital and relevant to now. And while the drama propels the story along, it is the quieter dialogues and glimpses into the internal narratives of our leads that really bring home the true theme of loss and regret, and the overwhelming feeling that it’s never too late to change anything.

As ever, Maupin remains faithful not only to his art but to his readers and, more importantly, to the characters he created and so obviously adores, instilling in all of them their own individual charms and neurosis and always imbuing them with a quiet dignity that is all too rare in modern fiction. We can only hope that Mouse, Mary Ann and Anna grace us with their presence again very soon.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Armistead Maupin's quirky yet engaging characters still speak to him

His book 'Mary Ann in Autumn' is the first full-fledged 'Tales of the City' novel since 1989.

By David L. Ulin Los Angeles Times Book Critic
November 9, 2010

Reporting from San Francisco —

The house that "Tales of the City" bought sits on the slope of a small hill not far from Golden Gate Park, tucked between Haight-Ashbury and the Sunset. It's behind a gate, up a flight of outdoor stairs, greenery lush and a little wild. The atmosphere, one imagines, is akin to that of 28 Barbary Lane, the fictional Russian Hill apartment building where the first six of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" novels took place, magical and mysterious and full of history, much like San Francisco itself.

This, of course, has always been the point for Maupin, who began the saga in 1974 as a serial in the Marin County-based newspaper the Pacific Sun before moving it to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. Three and a half decades later, the characters he invented — Michael Tolliver, Mona Ramsey, Mary Ann Singleton and the irrepressible Anna Madrigal — have become part of the mythos of the city, their adventures re-created in three miniseries and commemorated on bus and walking tours.

"It's an enormous privilege," Maupin says, his voice still carrying the trace of a Carolina drawl after nearly four decades in the Bay Area, "to have created characters who are in the consciousness of readers who remember the history of those characters, and who can remember a time in their lives when those characters intersected with their own feelings."

Maupin has long been something of an elder statesman, in both the literary and the gay community. "It's very easy to forget now," he reflects, sitting in his cozy front parlor, "how invisible gay life was 34 years ago. What I was watching, the flowering of this young culture and the personal liberation I was feeling, all became fodder for the work."

And yet, at 66, he finds himself in a place that feels a lot like renewal; his new book, "Mary Ann in Autumn," is the first full-fledged "Tales of the City" novel since "Sure of You" appeared in 1989.

It's not that Maupin ever lost sight of his characters: There were those miniseries and some minor references in his 2000 psychological thriller "The Night Listener." But in the wake of "Sure of You," he immersed in other projects, including the Hollywood novel "Maybe the Moon" (1992), and it wasn't until 2007's "Michael Tolliver Lives" that he considered a full-scale return.

"I wanted to do a personal novel about a gay man who had survived AIDS," Maupin says. "I realized I had just such a man in my repertoire and I decided that it would make sense to write through his eyes."

Written in the first person and focusing primarily on a single character, "Michael Tolliver Lives" does not have the multi-voice quality of a true "Tales of the City" novel, Maupin insisted at the time. Now he acknowledges, "I was testing the waters to see how people felt about the series. What really drove me back was the urge to do that multi-character story line again."

Equally important was the appearance of the saga's other characters. "All the characters auditioned for me one at a time," Maupin jokes. "I held off longest with Mary Ann. I was still a little grumpy about her. She got much nastier than I expected before I was finished with the series. Basically, I think, she was the incarnation of my darker, more ambitious side. And she was leaving San Francisco at the same time I was leaving the series. So I could talk about my own so-called betrayal in that way."

Mary Ann has always been at the center of "Tales of the City"; the first book opens with her decision to stay in San Francisco, in the middle of an eight-day vacation, and the sixth ends as she, now a local TV talk show host, decamps to New York. It's only fitting, then, that "Mary Ann in Autumn" should be the story of her reconnection — with the city, with her old friends, with herself.

"I wanted a little redemption," Maupin says of her, "but not a tremendous amount." The idea was to explore a more complex kind of reconciliation, in which old hurts can be forgiven but not entirely set aside.

Mary Ann is not without her own problems: She has ovarian cancer and is on the run from a failing marriage and a collapsed career. More than that, she is aware of all the people she has hurt, even if she doesn't quite know how to make it right.

"The past doesn't catch up with us," she thinks at the beginning of the novel. "It escapes from us." If "Tales of the City" was, initially anyway, a story of hope and possibility, "Mary Ann in Autumn" refracts those themes through the lens of aging, offering a more constrained view of the universe, in which certain things cannot be resolved.

That, to be sure, has always been part of the aesthetic; "I've never written an end in my life," Maupin says with a laugh.

On the one hand, this is in the nature of a serial, which relies on a succession of cliffhangers, from episode to episode and book to book. For Maupin, it's the fun and a necessary corollary to having written the first five novels for the newspaper, at the rate of five columns a week.

Yet even more than that, he points out, "You don't wrap up life."

Indeed, the "Tales" saga may be most remarkable for Maupin's ability to reflect, through his characters, the open-ended world in which they live. "I came out in the serial," he recalls. "Michael's coming-out letter to his parents was my letter to my parents. They were subscribing to the Chronicle and I knew that they would know that I was talking about myself."

Three books later, in "Babycakes" (1984), he began to write about AIDS.

The death of Michael's lover, Jon Fielding, in that book was, Maupin notes, "the first AIDS fatality in fiction" and a source of considerable controversy. "A lot of gay people," he remembers, "wrote me and said, 'How dare you spoil our light morning entertainment with your personal agenda?'"

All these years later, Maupin is still mixing the personal and the political. Next May, San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater will premiere a musical of "Tales of the City," featuring, among other things, his coming-out letter set to song. Meanwhile, "Mary Ann in Autumn" appears to signal a new engagement with the serial. "It's a little scary for me," Maupin admits, "now that I feel committed to the notion of doing it for life."

But why not? It's a vivid time to be writing, with gay marriage a leading indicator of what Maupin calls "the great civil rights movement of the 21st century" and outreach efforts such as "It Gets Better" galvanizing a community.

"What makes the campaign so brilliant, so revolutionary," he enthuses, "is that gay adults have behaved the way adults should behave towards kids, namely to lead the way. We've been afraid to do that for years because 30 years ago, Anita Bryant said gays are out to recruit your children. So everyone kept a respectful distance rather than simply acting as mentors and saying, 'I know what it's like, I was there.'"


Monday, November 8, 2010

Age cannot weary Armistead Maupin and his Tales Of The City

Mark Smith
8 Nov 2010

The San Francisco saga continues with Mary Ann In Autumn.

A funny thing happened to Armistead Maupin the other night. He was sitting in a theatre in San Francisco watching the musical version of his Tales of the City novels (“the whorehouse number is extra- ordinarily dirty!”) when, quite suddenly, he realised what had changed for him since the first novel in the series was published.

Back when he was writing that first book in the 1970s, Maupin was totally obsessed with the stories of Mary Ann and Michael, the twentysomethings who come to San Francisco looking for boyfriends and fun and a new kind of family. Thirty years on, as he sat in that theatre, however, Maupin realised his allegiances had shifted and he was now wrapped up in the lives of his older characters, Edgar and Mrs Madrigal. It’s what happens, he says, when you write a series of novels over 30 years and you get old yourself.

The morning after that little moment of revelation, I call Maupin at his home in San Francisco to talk about the latest Tales book, Mary Ann in Autumn, and it’s obvious these thoughts of ageing and change were very much on his mind as he wrote it. Both Mary Ann in Autumn and the first novel begin in much the same way: Mary Ann arrives at a house on Barbary Lane in search of change. But as she stands outside the house at the beginning of the latest book, she sees how the place has changed, how she has too and realises this old house, and this old city, aren’t going to work their magic a second time. She’s a girl, says Maupin, who can no longer be saved by geography.

Talking about that moment, Maupin says it was inevitable that the themes of ageing and change would burrow themselves into the novel because of where he is in his own life. “It’s what emerges from a 66-year-old writer,” he says. “Things speed up as you circle the drain and older people become more aware of it. I was thinking the other day: when one is young, one thinks that one’s grandparents are old forever but when you reach their age you realise how fast time is passing. It makes me wish I could go back to the elders of my family and talk to them again.” And then, just when things are beginning to sound a bit melancholy, Maupin does what he does best and adds in some humour. “I have a handy reference point on ageing,” he says. “My husband Christopher is 21 years younger than I am.”

Maupin famously met Christopher Turner after seeing a picture of him on the internet (a story he fictionalised in Michael Tolliver Lives) and in the new book, Mary Ann launches into her own exploration of the web. This leads to a brilliant plot twist that you only realise at the end of the book has been hurtling towards you like an out-of-control San Francisco tram, but what it also does is allow Maupin to put Mary Ann back at the centre of the books and retune the image many Tales readers have of her as a bit of a B.

“I wanted to humanise Mary Ann a bit more and show something of her own process,” he says. “I make no apologies for any of the characters. They are who they are and nobody’s supposed to be perfect and that’s one of the reasons the stories appeal to people. They are all just one big mass of foibles.”

In Mary Ann’s case, all the foibles are still there, but the big baddie she has to face in this novel is fear: she’s coming out of a marriage, she’s been diagnosed with cancer, and she’s going back to face some of the people she let down, and the fear of it all is in danger of consuming her. “How did I get like this, afraid of everything and everyone, even myself?”, she asks at one point.

Maupin says this fear Mary Ann experiences is woven into what he’s saying in the book about ageing: just because you get older doesn’t mean you get less afraid. “I remember one of the eerier nights of my childhood,” says Maupin. “I was walking past my grandmother’s room and I heard her crying in her sleep. She was 80 at the time and it came as a great shock to me that she had anything to cry about at that point. We carry these childhood demons with us all our lives.

“Mary Ann also has some sense that she’s committed wrong by some of the things she did not do. They were acts of omission, not commission, and I think we all have that.”

In case you’re worried that all this contemplation of ageing and fear makes Mary Ann in Autumn a melancholic book, don’t be. It’s sad in places but there is also plenty of Maupin’s humour too, including a stupendously rude joke about The Sound of Music. There is also, of course, another ingredient that has made the Tales books so successful: the portrayal of how gay life is, and can be.

“I hear from people today who read Tales when they were 13 and struggling with their own sexuality and it was the first time they had ever seen anything that told them they were as good as anybody else,” says Maupin. “That’s been going on now for 34 years so I’m proud I’ve been able to say that.”

Maupin is delighted too that there has been so much progress on gay rights since the first novel, but says more is needed and is disappointed that Obama has still not repealed the US policy on gays in the military which requires them to hide their sexuality (“We know Obama’s a decent guy but he’s curtailing it at every turn for political purposes”). He also says that, despite the progress, there are still gay kids who need to come to San Francisco to change themselves, just like Mary Ann and Michael did, and just like Maupin himself once did. Mary Ann may say in the latest novel that geography can’t change her, but it took a while for Maupin to realise that.

“All my life I’ve had this sensation that if I just took a trip somewhere, there would be this wondrous new life waiting for me, but in fact we carry our lives with us. Gay men get in the habit early on of fixing our lives by moving – sometimes you need new people around you to be yourself and pick your friends one at a time. We’re all born into this big biological mould that we think we have to love until we realise we should be auditioning them just as we audition the rest of our friends.”

It’s partly by writing the Tales novels that Maupin has realised all this – and it’s not the only time he has used the books to work out issues he himself is facing. He’s often, he says, used his writing to cope with, and explore, his life, and he’s still doing it with the latest novel, and with the musical version. In fact, the musical has driven home one of the themes that’s present in every one of the novels: the joy and surprise of coincidence and connection in our lives. “I look for patterns in my life through my social connections and when I find them that’s beautiful to me,” he says. “Coincidence is my only religion.”


Friday, November 5, 2010

Armistead Maupin on his continuing Tales of the City series and returning to the Homotopia Festival

Nov 5 2010 by Catherine Jones, Liverpool Echo

WHEN he was 14, Armistead Maupin went looking for Scarlett O’Hara’s house Tara in Atlanta. “I knew it was a fictional creation but I wanted to know where it MIGHT have been,” he says.

Gentleman that he is, the 64-year-old has let me into this little secret to make me feel less of an idiot for telling him I once went looking for Barbary Lane – the fictional San Francisco setting for his hugely successful Tales of the City books.

“Well there is a street that inspired it,” he says. “Sometimes news crews ask me to go over there and talk, and we invariably find people there with little guidebooks, looking for it.

“If I were to run into you I’d be very happy because I think it’s the supreme compliment!”

No need to cross eight time zones to meet the man himself though, as the creator of Anna Madrigal, Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton is heading for Liverpool and this month’s Homotopia festival.

He previously appeared at Homotopia – the city’s festival of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender arts and culture – in 2007, reading from his book Michael Tolliver Lives at St George’s Hall.

This time the setting is slightly different; Armistead will read sections from his latest ‘Tales’ novel Mary Ann in Autumn while the already sell-out audience enjoy high tea at the London Carriage Works.

“If it involves cake I’m all over it!” he exclaims, laughing when I tell him he’ll be sitting in splendour on a raised dais. “As long as I don’t have to hold a cup of tea while I do it – I’m not that co-ordinated.”

Mary Ann in Autumn, out next week, revisits one of his core Tales of the City characters 20 years after she left her husband and child in San Francisco to pursue her dream of a TV career in the Big Apple.

Now a couple of calamities have driven her back to the West Coast and she finds temporary refuge in a cottage at the end of Michael Tolliver’s garden.

Armistead first started writing his Tales of the City as a newspaper serialisation in the 1970s before they were turned into a series of best-sellers.

But at first it wasn’t all plain sailing, and he admits he owes a lot to British publishers and public who caught the ‘Tales’ bug early on, thrusting him into the mainstream literature market.

“I owe a very great deal to my homeland. I think I can call it my homeland – my grandparents were British,” he tells me from the home in San Francisco he shares with husband Christopher Turner.

“My grandfather, who it turns out was not married to my grandmother, would be 150 if he were living today.

“When my tour goes through Bath I’m going to meet a gentleman who’s 93 and is also his grandson. We share a grandfather neither of us ever met.”

It’s a colourful tale that, as it unfolds, would make a fantastic basis for a story – or an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

His grandmother, who was the inspiration for his character Anna Madrigal, was an English suffragist, actress – and palm reader.

“When I was 14 she said: what do you plan to do with your life dear?” he recalls.

“I said ‘I’m going to be a lawyer like my daddy’, and she closed my palm and patted it, and looked the other way.”

Armistead Maupin appears at Homotopia on November 24. For full details on the festival programme, visit www.homotopia.net


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Armistead Maupin Interview on KQED Public Radio

Tue, Nov 2, 2010 -- 10:15 AM

Armistead Maupin, author of the acclaimed "Tales of the City" series, joins us to discuss his latest installment, "Mary Ann in Autumn."

Host: Michael Krasny


Armistead Maupin, author of nine novels, including the six-volume "Tales of the City" series, "Maybe the Moon," "The Night Listener" and, most recently, "Michael Tolliver Lives"

'Mary Ann in Autumn,' by Armistead Maupin

October 31, 2010
By Jane Juska
Special to The Chronicle

Mary Ann in Autumn

A Tales of the City Novel

By Armistead Maupin

(Harper; 287 pages; $25.99)

The Castro in 2010 isn't nearly as much fun as Russian Hill in 1978, and Collingwood Street cannot compare with Macondray Lane. To make matters worse, Anna Madrigal in Armistead Maupin's new book, "Mary Ann in Autumn," is old - when we first meet her she is lying on the kitchen floor having what she calls a little snooze - and Mary Ann Singleton is 57. Lord, what would Laura Linney think of that?

I'm not as much fun now either as I was in 1978, when I read the serialization of "Tales of the City" in The Chronicle. Gay sex, gay drama, gay tragedy and gay fun - funnier than straight fun - made each excerpt a must-read. With each one I felt smarter, more sophisticated and a whole lot wittier. Here were people I would never meet who welcomed me into a world I would never know but who suffered and laughed and worried and enjoyed life just like the rest of us, or like the rest of us were trying to do, not so easy with all those straight people interfering.

With the exception of Anna Madrigal, everybody back then was becoming; in "Mary Ann in Autumn," almost everybody is. Is is never as much fun as becoming. Take it from one who is closer in age to Mrs. Madrigal than to Mary Ann, although so far I do not nap on the kitchen floor.

So what does Maupin offer us to blunt the pain of aging, in its own way a sort of becoming? In addition to Facebook, he offers us the kind and gentle Michael Tolliver, Mary Ann's best friend both then and now, whose advice and sympathy she has come to seek as a wounded wife buried for too long in Connecticut. Michael, too, has been wounded by time and life: the death from AIDS of many friends, a shrinking economy, the changes in his almost-60 body. He cannot help but worry about the age difference - 28 years - between him and his husband of three months, and clings to the possibility of building a cabin in the Sierra on a bit of land he'd bought in better times.

Amid all this he is a loyal and steadfast friend to Mary Ann when she reveals her decision to leave her husband. It seems that Bob Straightallover (not his real name) has gotten himself caught on Skype being serviced by Mary Ann's life coach - in Venice. Back in Darien, Mary Ann watched the whole thing and then packed. She needs a friend to listen to her marital woes, and she needs a friend to help her through her recently diagnosed cancer.

Right here in San Francisco, through thick and through thin, is Michael. And just down the Peninsula is her old friend, DeDe, who speaks of herself as "a pushy old lesbian," in Chanel, no less. And here are Anna and ultimately Ben and just possibly Shawna, the adopted daughter Mary Ann left behind when she defected to Darien. She is surrounded by love and hope; she simply must recover.

Kind of soapy, huh. But good soap, 99 44/100 percent pure. Whip it up with Michael's new husband, Ben, young and a roamer; add Jake, a transgender in the making - talk about becoming! - and a Mormon missionary named Jonah Flake, and you've got a concoction that is irresistible. Whoops, let's not forget the lesbians; sometimes only a woman will do.

The year 2010 has been a grim one for many people inside books and out, no matter their gender or their sexual orientation. Just how grim shows up in the character of Leia, a woman Shawna finds in an alley in the Tenderloin, earning the only way she knows how the money she needs for heroin. Leia is not only a victim of the drug but also of necrotizing fasciitis, "the flesh-eating disease."

Leia turns out to be linked to the other people in the book - mystery eventually solved - but she is of more interest to the reader as a real human being rotting on the streets of San Francisco. Maupin's creation of her is fine; we feel queasy at the sight of her filthy self waving down cars on South Van Ness for a handout, and hopeful that medical help will come in time. We feel angry and helpless and frustrated. Goes with 2010.

But this is not a book that calls us to action. This is a book about middle-aged people struggling with the autumn of their lives and about young people struggling with the spring of theirs. At different points in the novel, they all become aware that they need each other - "the genderless neutrality of the human heart" - to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and to have a good bit of fun along the way. After all, they live in San Francisco, where you can go to Pier 39 and watch all those seals.

Nota bene: There are two dogs in this book and a clown. No cats, though.

Jane Juska of Berkeley is the author of "A Round-Heeled Woman" and "Unaccompanied Women." E-mail books@sfchronicle.com.

(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010


Monday, November 1, 2010

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