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Friday, February 7, 2014

Armistead Maupin In Conversation With John Searles at Barnes & Noble

Last night I attended an conversation with Armistead Maupin and John Searles (author of the excellent Help For The Haunted) at Barnes and Noble on the Upper East Side. I confess that I have never read Maupin, but I did buy his first book in the Tales of the City series for $1.99 on Kindle recently, and last night I bought his last book in the series, The Days of Anna Madrigal, so I will catch up.
John Searles and Armistead Maupin at Barnes & Noble

The room was filled to capacity last night, and many more people were watching from outside the room by the time it began. Maupin has a very dedicated and fervent following, and they were hanging on his every word and laughing at all of his inside jokes.

Searles began by telling how he came to read Maupin, finding a copy of Tales of the City at a used book store when he was teen and being intrigued by the orange cover. His father was a long distance trucker, and he was to accompany his dad on a trip in the hopes it would make a man of him. (He joked that it failed, but he did become a Maupin fan for life.)

Searles also said that as he was reading Maupin's books on the subway, he was approached by several people, all who wanted to talk about Maupin's books. Maupin told a story about a man who was stabbed on the subway, saved from injury by the hardcover copy of Maupin's book that he had in his jacket. (See kids, reading can save your life!)

Maupin spoke of being inspired by Christopher Isherwood's novel A Single Man, and wanted to write a story that had characters who happen to be gay. He spoke of the beginnings of the idea for the books, when he wrote a daily 800-word column (yikes!) for the San Francisco Chronicle about dating and life in the city, which he found "exhilarating and scary".

He spoke of his editor who had a chart in his office with two columns- "Heterosexual" and "Homosexual". On that chart, he would keep track of the people Maupin wrote about in his columns, with the imperative being that there must always be more hashmarks in the "Heterosexuals" column.

Maupin says he is a slow, deliberate writer, writing just two pages a day. "Breezy writing takes time" he said. He spoke of hearing the "music in the paragraph", and of sometimes spending much time looking for a three-syllable word that will fit in the paragraph to maintain the rhythm he wanted.

Searles asked him if aging was on his mind in these most recent books, and Maupin broke the crowd into peals of laughter with his response "it was the pictures that got smaller", the famous Norma Desmond line from Sunset Boulevard.

Also covered were the HBO miniseries based on Tales of the City, starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis (whom he dedicated this new book to), why he moved to Sante Fe (San Francisco is getting too expensive), and most important, why is Mary Ann such a bitch? (He gets asked that question all the time.)

Searles asked him what he most wanted to people to know, and his answer was beautiful. He said he wanted people to know that "life is messy and beautiful, that friends get us through it and love is everything."

It really was a wonderful evening, and I enjoy listening to two terrific authors in conversation more that just an author reading when the questions are thoughtful and draw out the author, as Searles did so well. The only thing that would have made more memorable would be if in took place "in Paris", a phrase that Searles says will make any story more exciting when you place it at the end.

Armistead Maupin's website is here.
John Searles' website is here.

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