n early '90s television adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City proved to be so raw—thanks to its honest depictions of love and lust across gender-normative norms—that it not only earned the series a Peabody Award and recognition from the National Board of Review, but also a bomb threat to a PBS affiliate station in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The legend of Maupin was forever cemented.
Far from a Cher-style farewell, Maupin assures this is, in fact, the final chapter—an intrigue-filled tale that plays across the Bay to Winnemucca, Nev., and finally the Burning Man Festival—bringing the members of Maupin's own "logical" family: Mary Ann, Mouse, Brian and the landlady at 28 Barbary Lane, full circle.
On his way from San Francisco to Berkeley on the first stop of his Madrigal-madness tour, the author opened up to SFR prior to his Jan. 24 appearance at the Lensic. From nostalgia to circumcision, no topic was off-limits.
SFR: How was your flight out of Santa Fe?
AM: I like the airport there because it has a burger stand next to the security line. I always feel like I'm in Wings when I fly out of the Santa Fe airport [laughs].
It's day one of your book tour bonanza. Are you already exhausted?
I am actually! Books tours are great. It's exhilarating when I get to be with people and sign books, I like that part.
What's the one question you loathe being asked?
Probably that one.
Goddamit! I though I was being clever.
I'm just being glib. You know, I'm not tired of being asked anything, really. I try to give a fresh answer every time. There are a lot of questions about ending the series and all of that, but I take that as a huge compliment—people want more. That's exactly the time that I should be leaving. End it with a bang rather than a whimper.
They say that a lady always knows when to leave.
Am I the lady, or is Anna? [Chuckles]. She uses the term "leaving like a lady" but she's referring to accepting her own death.
“Some people drink to forget. Personally, I smoke to remember."
We'll get to her in a bit. How did you find San Francisco this time around? Unseasonably warm and there fore a little scary, because it's wintertime in San Francisco.
What drew you to settle down in New Mexico?
I did it based on the way I felt in the place. I'd been wanting to stick my toe into desert life for a long time, and it just seemed to be the right place. There's a wonderful assortment of characters and the price was right.
When was the moment after you moved here that you realized, ‘I’m from here now’?
You can’t narrow it down to any specific moment, but the fact that I can walk outside and pee with my dog is nice. That sort of made it clear that I had moved from the City. That’s how we started out— adjusting to the notion of leaving San Francisco—we were looking for a backyard for our dog, and now we have 15 acres.
15 acres to piss on—that's a lot.
Yeah, you can change it up every time.
What are your responsibilities as a gay icon? Are there meetings?
I hope so! There are a few I'd like to meet. I presume you're being facetious as I don't feel very iconic.
Not at all. In prepping for this interview, every profile on you that I came across referred to you as that.
I'm happy to accept thanks for, you know, telling the truth very early on and celebrating what it means to be gay. I feel that genuinely, and that's something that's charged my writing for years—stories from when I moved to San Francisco and allowed myself to be myself, and I'm very proud to have been part of that movement. I'm just one person. A lot of political folks have really shown enormous persistence and bravery in getting these issues to the courts and the legislature. I was impressed so much by how many people in Santa Fe and New Mexico in general, had already been working to make marriage equality come about. All I've ever really done is set the atmosphere.
We now live in a world where HIV isn't an automatic death sentence, and our rights as queer individuals are for the most part recognized. Do you ever look back in amazement?
Yes, all the time. AIDS actually appeared in Babycakes—the fourth novel—for the first time and it was the first mention of the epidemic in fiction. I stopped the series back in 1989 partially because I was certain that Michael did have a death sentence and I didn't want a series of books where a gay man died at the end because that was the usual place for gay characters in popular culture—they had to pay for it. I do look back in amazement and great grief when I think about the friends that didn't get make this journey with me.
Talk to me about this 40-yearlong love affair you've had with Tales of the City. Talk about a long-term relationship, right?
Yeah. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck around so long, I was aware that I have long-term relationship with my readers and that holds an enormous value when you’re telling a story, because your previous books resonate with them like their own pasts. It becomes very personal and it serves a great advantage to the writer. The hardest part is remembering what you’ve said; keeping up with the history of these people.
Out of all of them, what is it about the landlady at 28 Barbary Lane is that is so enduring?
I think it's because she's a parental figure without the usual parental restrictions. She operates on some higher plain. She's probably one of the few characters which isn't me. She's more or less what I aspire to be. She's a creature of great compassion and humor, and she doesn't have a puritanical bone in her body.
That's always a party.
Well, that's the great disease of America, so I'm happy to have a character that represents the polar opposite.
You personally found inspiration in Burning Man that's laced in this book. How did you experience it?
My husband dragged me [laughs]. We went last year for the second time. I am not a lover of dirt and heat so I didn’t think I was gonna have a good time, but the actual setting is so captivating that it unnerves you and you give into it. We stayed with the same camp—of course, called Celestial Bodies—both times and it’s funny the bonds you form. It’s like seeing people again that you knew from summer camp. Five of them are coming to my reading in Danville, Ca., in a few nights and it’s gonna be very awkward to introduce them from the stage, because one of them I only know by his burn name.
What's your burn name?
The same as Michael's in the book, Sofa Daddy.
Nice! So as long as there was a sofa around, you were into it.
I was a total sofa whore. I was walking around the camps and if they had a sofa, I was there.
What did you love about the festival the most?
There's a lot of whimsy involved in Burning Man–I hope I got that across on the book. There's a great deal of joy and humor involved in the whole thing. It's not some dead-serious hippie festival; it's people having a good time.
Along with the introduction of Burning Man, Days is laden with current pop culture references—everything from the Kardashians to Angry Birds. Do you think this could potentially alienate longtime Tales enthusiasts?
I've always had current pop culture references in my books from the very beginning. The first one is loaded with pop culture references—some of which are not even understandable today. I think they add value because they help you land your story in particular time, so I've always tried to do it.
Your dedication of the book is very sweet. How important is Olympia Dukakis to Anna's character and to this book?
Well, Olympia owned that character the moment she set eyes on the script and subsequently we've become good friends. It's amazing to have my life intertwined with these actors in such a dramatic way—in such a personal way, I should say. They're inexplicably woven together. I don't know if you've seen the news online, but Laura Linney who plays Mary Ann had a baby boy on January 8…
Middle name Armistead.
Yes! I've been a giddy old thing ever since then. I'm so honored to have that connection with her child. That wouldn't of happened if I hadn't written the story and somebody wonderful hadn't come along to play the character. There's a lot of me in Mary Ann and there's a lot of Mary Ann in Laura. As a consequence, we understood each other almost instantly.
Your blog is called A Man I Dreamt Up. How close are you now to the vision of a future you a young Armistead envisioned growing up?
You know why that blog is called 'A Man I Dreamt Up'? There was a documentary about 20 years ago on me from the BBC that was called that. 'A Man I Dreamt Up' is an anagram of Armistead Maupin. It was a very clever comment on the fact that I use anagrams in the story, but now everyone thinks that I'm just and anagram and I don't exist. I have to go on book tours to prove that I exist.
You've said this book, the ninth installment in the Tales saga is the last…
I think that's the question that I never want to hear again!
I nailed it! Is this a real farewell or a Cher-style farewell?
I'm aware of the resemblance to Cher's Farewell Tour, but I'm pretty clear about it this time because of obvious reasons...
I want to end this with a question I'm pretty sure you've never been asked: So I hear you're uncircumcised?
Yes I am! I don't know that I haven't been asked that before.
Just when I though I had it!
Ian McKellen and I are on the same three lists online: Famous gay people, famous atheists and famous uncircumcised men. We're old buddies, so we've laughed about that a few times.
See, you can't get any more gay icon than giggling with Ian McKellen over being uncut.
OK [laughs]. I'll take your word for it.
AN EVENING W/
7 pm Friday, Jan. 24. $10-$15
The Lensic, 211 W San Francisco St.,