the AIDS crisis. both pre and post pandemic. The first book describes San Francisco in terms of a magic playground. an incredibly tolerant city with a gay population larger than some capitals. a place where
; beleaguered gay Americans had finally found a safe haven. all nestled within some ofthe best scenery in the world.
The early storylines reflected the 70s
f optimism: relationship and friendships
i being formed, Gay Rights portrayed as a natural and eventual reality. Mary Ann
continuing toclimbthe ladder of
; commercial success. But by the later books.
AIDS found its way into the author‘s life as
2 well as the characters. Michael became IIIV positive. as did his lover. The spectre of
. death and the moral destruction of a main
; character became the touchineg sad
elements to a brave finish of a story that spanned a decade and reached across the globe. For many gay people. Tales ofthe City was the first time they‘d seen characters like themselves in print.
Maupin‘s first book since the series. Maybe The Moon. is being published here in February.
‘It‘s roughly inspired by a friend ofmine who played E. T. . I met her here in San Francisco when she was nineteen years old. Then she decided to run away to Hollywood and six months later called me up to tell me that she was in a Spielberg project and that he expected it to be the next Wizard ofOz. It struck me that there was a novel in the
dilemma of someone who has starred in perhaps the most successful movie of all time and yet is completely unrecognisable on the street. Someone who. at the same time. draws stares everywhere she goes because of her physical nature.’
Considering the size of E.T.. it wasn‘t so shocking to learn that Armistead‘s friend was 31 inches tall. ‘At one point. she
ARMISTEAD MAUPIN FEATURE
‘The new world of
“Gay Lit” is very confining in a lot of ways. It’s a new way of putting us at the back of the bus.’
qualified as the shortest woman in the world. She was extraordinary. a condensed Bette Midler. She had an enormous personality. a great spirit. She had many. many gay friends because. as she put it. “I can go to gay bars and not feel like a Martian." Gay people identified with her outsider-dom and she identified with theirs. I had already contracted to write a novel inspired by her life. We‘d already had a session here at the house, so when she died . . . it sort of cemented the idea in a rather dramatic way. And in many ways it [the writing] was easier than usual.‘
Armistead considers himselfa slow writer, and describes the process as ‘Holy Hell. I wrote slowly. Glacially really. Putting out a methodical two or three pages a day which are generally close to the finished product. I felt her spirit was hovering over me. guiding me in the directions I needed to go. Her personality was so imprinted on me that it was fairly easy to imagine what she would do under any given circumstance.‘
On top of releasing a new book. Armistead is also involved in the televising of Tales of the City by British company, Asterix Productions. Filming is due to commence in the spring for broadcast on Channel 4 this autumn. The American co-production company is Propaganda films and Richard Kramer (writer/producer of the series Thirtysomething) has already written the first three episodes. The initial series of twenty episodes will cover the first two books. Despite the long-term and continued popularity ofthe Tales novels. when the British producers came to America. expecting great enthusiasm and investment. they were turned down by everyone in Hollywood. Armistead was hardly surprised that there was such a lack of interest in the project. ‘Tales ofthe City treats homosexuality in a matter-of-fact way. Hollywood will only deal with homosexuality when it‘s DISEASE OF THE WEEK. Even then it‘s usually through the tortured eyes of the family having to deal with it.‘
Tales ofthe City has often been described as the greatest success in cross-over fiction. a work ofgay literature that still holds appeal for a straight audience. ‘Crossover‘ is a label that Maupin dismisses as a misnomer. seeing
as the original newspaper serial, from which the novels were adapted, was written for a primarily straight audience.
I asked him how he felt about the term ‘Gay author‘.
‘I never mind the term. except when it’s used to infer that my work only appeals to gay people. I’ve always made a point of being open about my sexuality because I saw a generation of gay authors who were not, and I was disgusted by their behaviour.
‘But I think it‘s a terrible mistake for gay writers to assume that we now have a comfortable little niche that we can remain in. The new world of “Gay Lit” is very confining in a lot of ways. It‘s a new way of putting us at the back ofthe bus.
‘Publishing houses now understand that there is such a thing as gay fiction and they promote that fiction to gay publications. sell that fiction in gay bookstores and basically keep that fiction confined to that area so that it’s only being directed towards a gay audience. I don’t think that liberation will occur unless the people that need to hear our message get the chance to hear it.’
We spoke ofthe definite need for the gay lifestyle to be adequately and honestly portrayed in literature and the arts. But at the same time. for the artists taking on this work, there exists a very fine line. ‘To categorise yourself and limit your boundaries by declaring yourselfa part ofa sub-genre is disastrous! Black writers go through the same experience. Black actors are often told. “We have no black roles in this production.”
‘This quandary is reflected in Maybe The Moon, in the difficulties that the lead character has in finding roles. She‘s always told. “There are dwarfs in this movie" and her response to that is, “Yes, but are there human beings? I can play a human being.“
‘Part ofwhat I‘m saying in Maybe The Moon is that these subgroups we’ve formed
For many gay people, Tales of the City was the first time they’d seen characters like themselves in print.
in an effort to obtain our liberation can limit us and compartmentalise us and keep us from joining humanity at large.‘
And whatever temptation there is to classify or iconise Maupin’s work as historical and/0r political. the books stand on their own merit. He has been described as ‘master of the quick sketch’. the storylines are fever-paced. the characters well developed and very human. Maybe it is a sugar-coated dose of politics. but education was never this entertaining. Maupin makes it seem easy.
“The whole trick ofwriting is to find the common humanity in each and every character. The real intent ofmy work is to reach the world at large, to take the message ofcompassion and generosity and understanding that is learned through the process ofbeing gay and sharing that with Q everyone.
Maybe The Moon by Armistead Maupin will ' be published on 11 February (Bantam
£14. 99). He will be giving readingsfrom his work, as part of an author tour in March (dates to be confirmed).
2")Janu-ary—ll February 199313