Armistead Maupin is a literature legend. In fact when it comes to gay fiction his Tales of the City series is arguably the best-known and most-loved the world has ever known.
So interviewing the man is a nervous experience fraught with difficulties. You have to keep the questions fresh, interesting and — hopefully — significantly different from the usual fare he’s been asked in the god-knows-how-many interviews he has done.
Fortunately he has a new book on the shelves — Mary Ann in Autumn — that provides a new introduction to the living legend. The latest in the Tales of the City series, Mary Ann in Autumn takes place after Mary Ann Singleton returns to San Francisco at age 57 to face a number of personal issues.
Last we’d heard, Singleton left her husband and step-daughter to pursue a glamorous career in television in New York — a classic case of career before all else.
“I really wanted to offer some hope of redemption for Mary Ann,” Maupin tells the Star Observer when asked about the reasons behind the new novel.
“The question I get asked most often is why is Mary Ann such a bitch?”
No doubt that will be one of the questions Maupin will be asked when he fronts a packed Sydney Opera House concert hall on March 3 in what is sure to prove one of the highlights of the Sydney Mardi Gras season.
Chances are he’ll also be quizzed — either by the audience or host Julie McCrossin — on the difficulties of writing about a character who has aged 20 years since avid readers were last able to peer into Mary Ann’s complicated but loveable life.
“[Mary Ann] is part of my genetic make-up — I’ve been writing about her for 37 years,” Maupin offered by way of explanation.
“Most writers use bits of themselves in their characters, and there are certainly parts of me in Mary Ann.
“But some of what happens to her in this book is deeply coloured by things that have happened to my friends as well.”
Maupin admits to injecting significant amounts of his own character into the Tales of the City matriarch, Anna Madrigal.
Arguably the most-loved of all the Tales characters, in Mary Ann in Autumn Madrigal is a frail, elderly woman. And when asked how difficult it was to age such a beloved character, Maupin admits it was confronting.
“It’s not at all easy writing about Anna in that way — I can’t distance myself from it,” he said.
“To a certain degree her mortality is a representation of my mortality …”
Those who have read Mary Ann in Autumn (Doubleday RRP $32.95) will no doubt be struck, as I was, at the pivitol role social media, particularly Facebook, plays in the unfolding of the plot.
“It reflected what was going on in my life at the time [I was writing],” Maupin told the Star Observer.
“I was learning Facebook at the same time she was and it occurred to me that it could be put to use for some very creepy purposes.”
Maupin’s Tales of the City broke new ground on its release thanks to the open and frank way it looked at the evolution of San Francisco’s gay community through the 1970s and ’80s.
Not only did it spawn a string of international best-sellers, but also three incredible television series — Tales of the City, More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City — boasting outstanding performances from Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney to name just two.
Fortunately for us, the first series — a magnificent interpretation of Maupin’s iconic work — is about to be re-released in Australia on DVD though Acorn Media (www.acornmediaau.com).
Interestingly, while the author has no firm plans at this stage to add to the Tales of the City series in print form, he is hard at work on a stage adaptation of the work with none other than the Scissor Sisters.
Due to open in San Francisco in May this year, Maupin said he is hoping the show will be successful enough to tour the globe.
“It really is a wonderful experience — a completely different medium,” he said of the as-yet unnamed show.
“There’s a very dedicated team of people working on it.”
info: An Evening with Armistead Maupin is at the Sydney Opera House on March 3. Bookings 02 9250 7777 or www.sydneyoperahouse.com
info: An Evening with Armistead Maupin is at the Athenaeum Theatre on Sunday, February 27. Bookings 03 9094 7800 or visit http://wheelercentre.com