Posts about writers and artists who have influenced me
I remember well how I first came to read Armistead Maupin. And I remember well that it was More Tales of the City that I read first. It was one of those pivotal moments, one of those steps on the way to coming out, to being myself.
It was in Saskatoon, at the library. It was Pride week, though in the early eighties, there was no such thing as a Pride celebration in Saskatoon. But there, in full view of everyone, there was a table of books on Gay and Lesbian subjects (back before the other letters joined in). All sorts of books by all sorts of writers.
That table was a banquet to me. And a crucible. Standing there, perusing those titles was a joy and an act of courage and a deliverance. There was no hiding from what that table was all about and why I was interested in the books there. Standing there was a decision, a commitment. The real me was not afraid to be seen.
I remember picking up More Tales. That edition was trade sized, with a vibrant cover. I can’t actually remember, but I think I read a bit of that first chapter: Michael and Mary Ann and the Valentine’s Day resolutions and was hooked. I think it was the first of that batch of books I read. There was nowhere to buy the books in Saskatoon, but on my next trip to Edmonton, I bought the ones that had, at that point, been released.
That series is in my deserted island reading material. I love them like I had been a tenant at 28 Barbary Lane. I wanted so much to know those people. And in a way, I’ve met many real world equivalents along my journey. I’ve been blessed with friends whom I have loved and who have loved me as much as Mrs. Madrigal’s clan loved each other.
I remember seeing a San Francisco phone book at the library several years later and finding Maupin’s name and number. To this day, I kick myself for not just dialing and telling him how much he’d meant to me. But, just after my first surgery, when I was moving around again, he came to town to promote The Night Listener, and I set out with my new cane and found him on the U of T campus. I even got to tell him the story of the phone call I never made. He told me that back then, he was still answering his own phone and would have been there. That memory is one I treasure.
I think I stole from him the short, punchy chapters that often hit and run right before the chapter break. I learned from him more about the invented or created family, a concept that has always resonate with me, making it’s way into my own work and especially into Chasing Cold.
And I think, most importantly, he gave me the love of storytelling above literary pretension. His prose is clean, straightforward and lovingly, brutally honest. He exemplifies to me what storytelling is all about: “Who are they? What happens to them? How does it affect them?”
And in case he sees this, I say again, thank you.
I wanted to start a series of posts about writers that I love, that I feel have shaped me in some way. I’ve never really been able to identify how they’ve influenced my work. I don’t tend to be able to describe my process in that way. But, I know that the writers I love have helped to make me what I am now.
The first book of Heinlein’s that I really remember making an impact was Friday. I’m not sure if it was the cover or the description on the back, but I picked it up and devoured it. Here I was, a young gay boy growing up in Saskatchewan in the late seventies and eighties, in a place and time when it was not a good thing to be. And here was Friday, victim of prejudice because she was an artificial person, created in a lab. She was mistreated due to something she had no control over and something that was irrelevant to the person she was inside. And on top of that, it was a ripping good story, in a fully realized world I could picture in my head, seeing the connections to the world I lived in. I was hooked.
I religiously read everything he put out after that, right up until he died. Went back and filled in with Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Time Enough for Love. The Lazarus Long stories.
I think the things I took from his books were the strong sense of love between the characters, the bonds they forged in the face of whatever they were dealing with. Also, the thought that people could love more than one person, could build loving, stable relationships in some combination other than one boy/one girl. That idea was revelatory for me.
And there are elements of both those things in Chasing Cold. The relationships people can create, and the different ways those can express.
Heinlein was far from perfect. He was a sexist old goat and his politics didn’t always jibe with mine, but I loved those books. I still have them on my shelf, battered and well loved and read over and over.
I owe him, and I thank him for giving me those stories.