Friday, March 30, 2012

World of Armistead Maupin, novelist

The Tales of the City author talks to Melissa Whitworth about starting out, coming out and a note from Gandalf.

By Melissa Whitworth 4:32PM BST 30 Mar 2012

Armistead Maupin, 67, is the author of eight novels in the Tales of the City series, of which there are six million copies in print. The series began as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976 and has gone on to become a television mini–series, a film and a musical. The novels are all now available as ebooks. A ninth instalment, The Days of Anna Madrigal, will be published next year. Maupin lives in San Francisco with his husband, Christopher Turner, their labradoodle, Philo, and their cat, Maxine.

Mornings I get up at about nine o'clock; usually my husband and I spend a few minutes in bed with the animals before we open the curtains. The dog and the cat both like to crawl on and snuggle. We have a similar ritual just before bed, so that gives you a pretty good idea of how much we care about our creatures. The dog is named after the Greek root for love; he looks like a Muppet.

Writing My office is an eyrie at the top of the house. There's a lovely view of the eucalyptus forests out of one window, and we can look out across the bay towards Sausalito from the other. I work when my energy is high, in the morning. But the sunshine pours into this room and it makes me want to curl up like a cat.

Childhood I made every effort to become a lawyer because that's what my father wanted. But it was clear from the beginning that my instincts didn't lie in that direction. I was by nature a storyteller. When I was eight years old I would make my friends sit around the campfire and listen to ghost stories. It was how I found self–worth because I was so rotten at sports.

Starting out Tales of the City began as a failed effort to write a news story for a little newspaper about the heterosexual cruising scene at a local supermarket. I couldn't find anyone who would actually tell the truth about why she was there, so I made up a character called Mary Ann Singleton. Then the newspaper folded so I took the idea to the San Francisco Chronicle. The serial, now fiction, appeared five days a week and I had to come up with 800 words of a continuing story every day, no matter what, for two years. It was a pretty harrowing but exhilarating experience. Now Tales of the City is like a ball of sourdough starter I keep in the back room of my mind. I can use it to bake new bread whenever I want. Its DNA is always there, ready to generate new stories.

On the wall There's a painting of Christopher (pictured) by Don Bachardy, who was Christopher Isherwood's partner for many years. Don is still a very close friend. He was 30 years younger than Chris [Isherwood]. My Chris and I have a similar age gap, so their relationship has always been an inspiration. In my office loo I have a framed newspaper rack card from 30 years ago (pictured), announcing the return of Tales of the City. I think most self–promotional items should be in the loo – a certain amount of modesty is required.

Coming out I came out of the closet while writing the series. And what a revelation to realise that the thing that I had feared the most had become the source of my greatest inspiration and the cause of my success. My mother said to me, 'I don't mind you being honest, darling, I just don't want it to hurt your career.' I said, 'You don't understand, this is my career.' I knew very early in the game that my responsibility was to be publicly, openly, happily gay. That wasn't hard to do. I don't suffer closeted folks gladly. I let them know, especially if they're famous, that I think they have a responsibility. Years ago my friend Ian McKellen asked me how I felt about it and he told me that the evening he spent talking to me was what pushed him over the edge. I'm really proud of that.

Gandalf When Ian stayed here on one occasion, he left this note (pictured) on his bed. It says 'Gandalf slept here' – and, in parentheses, 'with Magneto! [McKellen's character in X–Men]' It's a little drawing of Gandalf lying on his back in the bed, smoking a pipe.

Lucky charm I have a brass Chinese dragon that I bought in the Chinese section of Saigon when I was stationed in the military there during the Vietnam War. I kept it by my radio in my bunker on the Cambodian border as a good luck charm.

In demand Readers see my characters as members of their own family. It makes me very happy to know that they matter to people so much, and have provided guidance for people I'll never even meet. Some fans can get quite proprietorial. I recently went into Facebook silence because I needed to write a novel. When I showed up on Facebook a week later people would post messages saying, 'Shouldn't you be writing?' To know that you are in demand is a lovely thing.

Award A crystal obelisk was given to me by the Trevor Project, the heroic organisation that helps suicidal LBGT [lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender] kids. There are a lot of them in the States at the moment with the homophobia being spewed by preachers and politicians. Children need to be told their life is worth something. I was given this award about 10 years ago. It just says 'for his efforts in saving young lives'. I think they meant that my work contributed to the spirit of LBGT self–acceptance and that makes me happy.

Coats of arms Chris and I have our coats of arms (pictured) framed side by side, in the wedding manner. We got them on a lark in Drumnadrochit, the village on Loch Ness where the monster is the chief tourist attraction. The poor lady who took our heraldic information didn't quite grasp the idea that it was our marriage that we were celebrating. Looking at the coats of arms she said, 'Which one is the bride?' We said, 'Neither of us, actually.'

Sexuality I have been conscious of being part of a cultural revolution for the past 35 years. There's no question that it's easier in some ways because gay folks aren't invisible any more. When I was young, many of us thought we were the only gay in the village. Now, because of that visibility, there's a much more concerted campaign against gay people, especially from the fundamentalist segments of America, and that means the pressure is much worse. Still, the polls now indicate that most Americans support the right for people to marry the person that they love. The battle hasn't been won yet, but we're close.

Relaxing I do enjoy a joint at night. I use something called a vaporiser, which removes the smoke from the cannabis. It's much better on your lungs. Lately I've been smoking something called Blue Dream. There are so many varieties these days, it's like wines, with similarly pretentious descriptions.

Viewing I spend the evening watching television with Christopher. Probably half of Britain will cringe to hear this but we love Downton Abbey. We giggle at the absurdity of all those people standing around dressed to the nines. But there's something oddly comforting about it. I'd rather wait for Maggie Smith's gowns than J–Lo's.

Love My life is full of love; I designed it that way. I try to make my own experience about love and I look for kindness and tenderness in others. That's what I've found in Christopher. That's the thing I value the most: it will get you through everything.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My hero: Armistead Maupin by Patrick Gale

'He taught me that fiction need not thump tubs to change opinions'

Patrick Gale, Friday 16 March 2012 18.55 EDT

Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City novels began life as a newspaper serial, run, Mrs Miniver-fashion, in the then deeply conservative San Francisco Chronicle and promptly disseminated across the country by post, photocopier and fax machine. I can't say, as many can, that they made me come out or move to California, but I can say that they were as strong an influence on my early novels as more "respectable" books by Iris Murdoch, and that they gave a rather timid ex-public schoolboy the resolve always to be himself. Like many English readers, I came across them in well-thumbed Black Swan paperbacks, borrowed from friends. The late 1980s is now a mercifully patchy memory, but I'm fairly sure I was cat-sitting for some lesbian friends, which, as Maupin fans will recognise, was an entirely apt introduction.

The premise of Maupin's stories was simple enough. Mary-Ann Singleton, an out-of-town ingénue with a core of steel, escapes from Cleveland to San Francisco and lands herself lodgings on the (cruelly fictitious) Barbary Lane with a wiser-than-wise landlady called Mrs Madrigal. Fallen under her protective charm, Mary-Ann befriends Michael Tolliver, a young gay man up for pretty much anything but nurturing secret dreams of a quiet life with a rugged Labrador owner. As Maupin's novel sequence progresses, Mary-Ann's Nancy Drew-style adventures lead her to a less than glorious career in daytime television, while Michael's lead him, via heartbreak and HIV, to (serial) true love and a suitably hunky career in gardening. But what matters is less the plots, amusing and outrageous though those are, than the aching sense that these people have become the reader's friends, an attractive, forgiving, alternative family one can only dream of joining.

By the time I was lucky enough to meet Armistead and become his long-distance friend, biographer and lousy correspondent, his creation had already exerted a powerful influence on my own writing. He taught me that fiction need not thump tubs to change opinions and that a gently comic tone can work wonders.

• A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale is published this month by Fourth Estate.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Armistead Maupin: I came out to my parents via Tales of the City

As his Tales of the City are released in ebook form, Armistead Maupin reflects on their 35-year journey from newspaper column to electronic text – and how they used his life as a 'jumping-off point'

Armistead Maupin, Monday 12 March 2012 08.23 EDT

I remember this guy. He usually dressed like a clone in flannel shirts and 501s, so he must have thought that loosened knit tie would make him look more journalistic. He had just moved into a cottage in the Castro, having bounced between Russian and Telegraph Hills for most of the 70s. For five years, off and on, he'd been writing a column for the morning newspaper that was, in effect, a story without an ending. He wrote his columns on carbon paper, keeping one copy and delivering the other to the newspaper office, often in a frantic last-minute dash in his Volkswagen convertible. There were times when he was barely two days ahead of his readers. Like them, he was waiting breathlessly for what would happen next – but counting on his life to provide it.

In that regard San Francisco never failed him. His tales were often fuelled by the people around him: a closeted movie star who lured him (rather easily) to his suite at the Fairmont Hotel, a socialite who threw a fancy luncheon "to rap about rape", a homeless man who offered him coffee in a hidden lean-to on Telegraph Hill, a hulking construction worker who slow-danced with him at a gay rodeo. When a "co-ed bathhouse" opened on Valencia Street, this young man was there, taking notes. When the newspaper offered him cruises to Mexico and Alaska, he went on them – in part to see where they would lead his imagination. His never-ending story was a snuffling, ravenous beast that had to be fed on a daily basis, so anything meaty and available was tossed into its waiting maw.

When, for instance, he went home one night with someone aroused by his shoes (the Weejuns he wore with his rugby shirt), he folded that incident straight into the mix. He even wrote about the things that hurt, the "affairettes" that broke his still-adolescent heart – the gorgeous but uptight doctor named Jon who performed mastectomies, the harmonica-playing marine recruiter who read him German poetry in bed and gave him a keychain that said: "The marines are looking for a few good men." It helped him make something useful – or at least entertaining – out of his romantic misadventures.

Which is not to say that his tales were especially autobiographical. The guy in this photo was all of his characters and none of them; reality was just his jumping-off point. He used to say that he was far more like DeDe Halcyon Day, the "recovering debutante" in Tales of the City, than Michael Tolliver, the romantic gay Floridian. After all, he had never entered a jockey shorts dance contest or swum naked into the Bohemian Grove with his clothes in a garbage bag; he would not have had the nerve. His nerve was largely confined to the written word and his insistence that gay folks were part of the human landscape and therefore deserved a place – and equal billing – in his chronicle of modern life. He was often at odds with his editors about this. One of them even kept an elaborate chart in his office to insure that the homo characters in "Tales" didn't suddenly outnumber the hetero ones and thereby undermine the natural order of civilisation.

And this guy loved that. He loved frightening the horses with that goofy grin on his face. He had kept his heart (and his libido) under wraps for most of his life, only to discover that the thing he feared the most had actually become a source of great comfort and inspiration. It thrilled him to testify for his own kind, to offer a pleasing shock of recognition to people whose stories were rarely told anywhere, much less in a "family newspaper". He used his column, in fact, as means of finally telling the truth about himself, coming out to his parents in North Carolina in the very letter that Michael Tolliver wrote to his folks in Florida. He would not have been able to do any of this had he not felt so embraced by a city where everyone – gay, straight and travelling – had learned to recognise, if not yet fully celebrate, the infinite possibilities of humanity.

That was 35 years ago, but I've been thinking about this young man a lot as my never-ending story enters an astonishing new era – one in which it can travel electronically to readers anywhere in the world. Could that guy in the loosened tie possibly have guessed how long his story would last or imagine the doors it would eventually open for him? It's better, perhaps, that he remained in the dark, living in the moment and sailing on his dreams. Come to think of it, it's always been better that way.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Mary Ann in Autumn" to be released March 9, 2012 in Germany

Armistead Maupin's "Mary Ann in Autumn" will be released March 9, 2012 in Germany.

Check it out here!

"Tour of the Tales" Update

Larry Rhodes, creator of the "Tour of the Tales" website has created a new tour:  "Dining with Anna and Friends!"  Have fun at some of Anna's and your other Tales friends' favorite San Francisco haunts.

Visit for more information.

Also, Larry is conducting an anniversary tour on May 26th.  For more information, visit  We hope to see you there!

Guided Walking Tour:
The 36th Anniversary of "Tales of the City"

Date:  Saturday, May 26, 2012

Co-Guide:  Rick Miller  Website:  Everything Armistead – News and Notes from Rick Miller

Starting time:  9:00 am at the Aquatic Park

Ending time:  approximately 4:30 pm

We will visit locales at:
Russian Hill
North Beach
Telegraph Hill
Nob Hill
Union Square

Although the Tour ends at about 4:30 pm at Union Square, for those interested, there will be a special "Post Script" tour of the Castro.

The Castro

We'll stop for a lunch break in North Beach

Armistead Maupin, Sister Roma to Host Gay Night at the Wax Museum Benefit

Armistead Maupin, Sister Roma, and Donna Sachet are to host Gay Night at the Wax Museum, an event to benefit REAF and Rainbow World Funs, March 10 at 8 pm at The Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf.
The evening will feature performances by Donna Sachet, Jason Brock, Bebe Sweetbriar, and Xavier Toscano as well as a dance party in the Chamber of Horrors, open bar, hors d'oeuvres, and a champagne greeting.

REAF raises funds for AIDS service provider agencies, primarily in the SF Bay Area, and Rainbow World Fund is an international humanitarian service agency based in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

For more information and tickets to Gay Night at the Wax Museum, click here.