Armistead Maupin talks about The Night Listener (his first novel in eight years), the Hollywood closet, dating, and Jennifer Love Hewitt
The long wait is over--after eight years we finally have a new novel from Armistead Maupin. Not that he hasn't been busy, of course: The author of the popular Tales of the City series and Maybe the Moon has been bringing his characters to television (Showtime will air its version of the third book in the series, Further Tales of the City, next April). The Night Listener (HarperCollins, $26) is Maupin's most autobiographical book to date--it's about Gabriel Noone, a radio serialist made famous by the books of his stories--and also his most disturbing: Gabriel is depressed over his recent breakup with his longtime companion, and a mystery involving a troubled fan takes him to some very dark places in the world and in his soul. Over coffee in his beautiful San Francisco home, Maupin freely acknowledges his similarities to Gabriel Noone (Maupin recently ended his relationship with Terry Anderson, although the two remain very close). At the same time, he reminds readers to "never trust a storyteller," since he will always adorn the truth with invention.
It's a little disturbing to hear Gabriel Noone say, in the first chapter of The Night Listener, that he feels "illegitimate as a writer, as if I'd broken into the Temple of Literature through some unlocked basement window." Even though the character isn't 100% you, it still sounds like the kind of thing that crossed your mind during some dark night of the soul.
Sure. I know very few writers who don't have that thought cross their mind. We all find something about ourselves that keeps us from being "a real writer." In my case respectability was a fairly long time in coming, not that I was striving for that [laughs]. Because Tales of the City started out as a newspaper column in the San Francisco Chronicle, it wasn't exactly on the literary map when the East Coast was thumping its chest about the Violet Quill. And it always bothered me that what I felt I had accomplished in a mainstream context in 1976 was never fully recorded by the Eastern establishment.
What I did with Gabriel was pursue some of my darker demons down whatever alleys they led me through, in the name of Gabriel Noone. But it's not fully me. I have a fairly healthy ego about what I've accomplished [laughs].
Having started out as a serialist, did you feel more like a "real writer" when you were between covers?
Absolutely. In the early days I remember when Rita Mae Brown came to town [and wanted to meet me], a local interviewer said, "What could a newspaper serialist possibly have to talk about to a serious novelist?" and I wondered if that person had actually read my work. But none of that's worth bitching about [laughs]. I think most writers are hideously insecure people, and they'll remember the one line of criticism from a review forever and forget all the nice things that have been said.
This is a book about faith, in a lot of ways. Are you a trusting person? Or are you tough to win over?
The corner of my consciousness always remains skeptical, largely as a sustaining device, because I am an extremely emotional and sentimental person. I will give over a great deal of myself to fantasy, so it's necessary for me to hold back a little in order to protect myself, and that's rather what Gabriel Noone does.
You address your breakup with Terry Anderson in the book. Terry is still your manager and your friend ...
And family. Were there things in the book that you maybe were hesitant to show him the first time?
I didn't get into specifics with him because it's my nature to avoid conflict if at all possible [laughs]. I can tell you that I held my breath for a very long time while he was reading the first draft of the novel, and he responded much in the way that Jess [the Anderson character] responds in The Night Listener, by calling me and telling me in tears that he loved what I had written, that it was my best work. …