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BOOKS New memoir reveals Armistead Maupin's true tales of the city
by Tony Peregrin
2017-10-04

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Armistead Maupin spent four decades creating memorable characters in his Tales of the City novels but it's real-life individuals like Rock Hudson that kindle his new memoir Logical Family—illuminating the coming of age and coming out story of one of America's most indelible authors.

In anticipation of the release of Logical Family: A Memoir on Tuesday, Oct. 3, Windy City Times spoke with Maupin from his home office in San Francisco's iconic Castro neighborhood about his quest to locate a "logical family," one not defined by DNA, his approach to writing non-fiction, and his decision to write about his "clumsy sex" with Rock Hudson.

Windy City Times: What prompted you to write a memoir? Why now?

Armistead Maupin: Because I won't be able to write one when I'm 100! [Laughs] Isn't this the right time to write a memoir? I thought it was time to explain a little about my life and how I got here.

WCT: At various points in Logical Family, you speak directly to the reader and acknowledge that—while something might sound made-up—it's actually true.

AM: I have to give credit for that trick to Mary Karr, the wonderful memoirist. I read The Art of Memoir rather recently and she said it's always a good thing to point out what may look like inconsistencies in your own memories to acknowledge the serendipity involved. My agent, Binky Urban, who knows everybody in town, recommended Mary Karr to me. I knew I needed guidance on the memoir process and I got real information from her that helped a lot.

WCT: You also occasionally admit to the reader that a detail or two might actually be a product of your "theatrical memory." I think this actually endears you to the reader and makes us care less about the veracity of specific details and more about the emotions you felt around a specific memory.

AM: Oh, that's nice to know. So, my trick worked.

WCT: It absolutely did.

AM: You know, Google is enormously helpful when you're checking on your own memory, and when it proves contrary to what you remember, I think it's worth remarking. It says something about the writer himself and the way he collects the pieces of his own life. In my novel, The Night Listener, I described the autobiographical central character as someone who is like a magpie who collects only the shiny bits and discards the rest. And I think that's ... I'm talking about myself there.

WCT: Speaking of shiny bits of memory—I was surprised to learn that at one point, you and Sir Ian McKellen fell in love with the same man, the Broadway and daytime television actor Curt Dawson. What was it about Mr. Dawson that drew both of you into his orbit?

AM: He paid attention. He was completely with you when he was with you and that was extremely charming. And he was engaged in life. A lot of actors have that quality. He was very excited about the world. I remember watching him studying a tide pool up in Mendocino with utter fascination and being touched by the moment.

WCT: In the book you describe Rock Hudson as a "buddy with occasional benefits." Your first sexual experience with Hudson, however, didn't actually go off with a bang. Did you have any trepidation about describing that first sexual encounter with him?

AM: Well, in the first place, I wrote that scene because sex isn't very interesting if it goes off well—it's just porn. There is something much more human about clumsy sex, and it was clumsy alright. And it also illuminated something about the nature of his life—that people had a hard time connecting with him on a personal level because he was competing with his own image on the screen.

WCT: Why did you title the memoir "Logical Family?"

AM: I coined that term about 10 years ago for my novel Michael Tolliver Lives. It comes from Mrs. Madrigal, the land lady at Barbary Lane who has formed her own family of tenants and friends and strays and it's her way of saying that yes, you have a biological family, but then you have a logical family, the one that actually makes sense for you. The one that accepts you as you are and loves you for who you are and doesn't put requirements on you.

WCT: You initially resisted using that title.

AM: Chris [Turner, Maupin's husband] said "Logical Family is the perfect title for your memoir, you've got to use it." And I'm not quite sure why I resisted it. Maybe because it felt like I was quoting myself, but I can't imagine it being called anything else now. A lot of people nowadays are taking comfort in that phrase and not just gay folks. People whose families are, for instance, supporting Trump and a fascist regime that is using gay people once again as scapegoats, those people have to draw on the strength of their logical families and tell their biological families to fuck off.

Both Chris and I did that this year with members of our family. For some reason, people think that it's okay to support a religion or political party that denigrates your own blood kin if the subject is queer. It's not okay if you follow a religion that says your own children are evil people. If you do, then you should get another religion or shut the fuck up.

And we have to be the ones to say that. We can't go home at Christmas and bite our tongues and giggle behind our hands and let them get away with it, because the future of the country depends on it.

WCT: Absolutely. Do you think it's more challenging to gather our tribe and form sustainable logical family bonds in the age of social media and the proliferation of dating and hook up apps?

AM: Well, if you're following them all according to dick size, you may have problems. I think social networking is wonderfully useful in terms of meeting people and forming families, but you still have to operate from the heart. You still have to have discriminating taste when it comes to how people behave.

WCT: Netflix is producing an updated version of Tales of the City. What can you reveal about the miniseries?

AM: It will be eight or 10 episodes set in the present day with Mary Ann Singleton, played by Laura Linney. Mary Ann has returned to San Francisco after 20 years in the East with a lot weighing on her mind—and that's all I can say about that.

WCT: Will the Netflix adaptation, written by Michael Cunningham ( The Hours ), characterize San Francisco as it is today—warts and all?

AM: The short answer is yes. We're folding in a new reality. Mrs. Madrigal is still holding her own in the old house on Barbary Lane…but change is in the air.

Armistead Maupin's Logical Family: A Memoir is now in bookstores and online.


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