I came late to Maupin, but it doesn’t really matter when in your life you first dip your toes into the Barbary Lane world. A gift of a dear friend in 1996, the first book was inscribed: When you finish the books, you’ll wish you could start all over again. I did. Enjoy, my beautiful girl. Love, Scott.
Oh, how sweet, sighs Maupin, when I show him the inscription. I love hearing that -¦ I love how people tell me how much they enjoy the books, and I love hearing that people read the books to each other in bed, chapter by chapter. It’s the reason the books have succeeded over the years because they take a sentimental role in the lives of people. I never dreamed they would do that -“ I’ve been very lucky.
Maupin has drawn his characters from real life -“ from the bit parts to the main players. Who could forget his carefully coded reference to a then-closeted Rock Hudson in Further Tales Of the City? Described as a lumbering titan of a man, surrounded, at his palatial house, by pretty boys of all shapes and sizes, the actor was just one of the many people Maupin crossed paths with throughout the 70s and 80s and who are now immortalised.
I like the idea of everybody I love loving everybody I love, Maupin says. Of course, besides being inspired by friends and acquaintances, I drew very heavily on myself for some characterisations. Michael and Mary Ann, for example, are various sides of me, I think. Michael is the sweet romantic side of me and Mary Ann is a little more sardonic and ambitious than Michael and that’s that side of me, and Mrs Madrigal was inspired by my grandmother.
Maupin also takes his characters into books outside of the sextet, such as Ned (Michael’s gardening business partner) into Maybe The Moon, and Anna (one of DeDe’s twins) into The Night Listener. I’ve always tried to write in the same universe, Maupin explains. It gives me a certain amount of comfort to drag along the family members that have come from the other books. Someone who comes to The Night Listener for the first time won’t have any problem with that, however. It’s more of an inside joke for the other readers.
In a way, Maupin also uses his novels as vehicles to drive, sometimes unconsciously, his own views on life. He has been outspoken in the past over some celebrities’ unwillingness to come out and uses fictional celebrity designers the Rands, in Sure Of You, as an example of exactly what not to do. The more famous I’ve become, the more I’ve come into the orbit of famous closet cases and it’s always an uncomfortable situation because I’m happily out and they’re acting as if I’m something they should be ashamed of, Maupin confides. It’s very difficult to confront famous people about their sexuality but I consider it a responsibility. And I try [to confront them] as nicely as I can in the hopes that I can help them see the light.
Maupin considers British actor Ian McKellen one of the success stories, however. I’m very proud of that one, he laughs. Ian McKellen credits me and [my ex-lover] Terry Anderson with being his gay godparents. He says that a conversation with us in San Francisco back in 1988 gave him the strength to go home and come out -¦ and I plan to milk that one as long as I can!
While most famous for the Tales series, Maupin is in Australia to promote his latest novel The Night Listener, and it would appear that again life imitates art. While perhaps the most intensely autobiographical of his works, the truth about The Night Listener may yet be even stranger than fiction, with Maupin promising a resolution to the knife-edge is he, isn’t he real questions raised in the novel.
Written eight years since his previous novel, Maybe The Moon, The Night Listener is the story of Gabriel Noone, a writer whose late-night radio stories have brought him millions of fans. Whilst in the middle of a painful separation from his lover of 10 years, Noone receives the proofs of a remarkable book -“ the memoir of an 13-year-old with HIV who suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of his parents. Now living with his adoptive mother, the boy, Peter, is a devoted listener to Noone’s show and when Noone phones him to offer encouragement, a friendships develops. However, all is not as it seems, and as the story unfolds, it would appear there is more -“ or less -“ to the situation than Noone suspects.
Complex, hypnotic, heartrending, the novel is at once a mystery as well as a swan song for his relationship with real-life lover Terry (Jess in the book). The Night Listener took some time to write, but Maupin said that while the journey was confusing at times, it was nevertheless cathartic. Also, that story hasn’t quite been put to bed yet, because there’s a real mystery behind the story that’s about to be solved for me and the world by a [TV] network in the States, Maupin says. Terry and I actually had a phone friendship with a boy very much like the one in Night Listener. The situation was identical and for 10 years now, we’ve seriously doubted the existence of the child, and it was Terry who pointed out the voices of the mother and the boy were exactly the same. This story was investigated last year by The New Yorker who did a 10-page piece that was not definitive which simply intensified the mystery for us, and next week, 20/20 [an ABC program] will release its findings.
When I started to write the book, it took me a long time to get started because I didn’t want the person in question to know that I doubted his existence on the remote chance that he did exist, Maupin explains. After the novel was published, a number of people came forward and told me that they’d had very similar experiences, not only with this child, but with other children. I came to realise there could be some sort of syndrome involved.
Together with the endless round of interviews and Mardi Gras events, Maupin will be touching base with his sister Jane when she and her husband arrive today. My sister runs a very stylish bed-and-breakfast in New Zealand which she bought from Terry and me, and she’s aching for more gay visitors so I’d better give it a plug, he laughs. Go to kahikatea.com to see what it’s like -“ and when you visit, you’ll also see a few old artefacts lying around that were part of our life there.
He’s no stranger to the southern hemisphere and very close to his family so you may even run into Maupin himself while you’re there.
The Night Listener (RRP $21.90 in softover) is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst.