Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger... boy culture: April 2007

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2 posts from April 2007

Apr 16 2007
From Boy To Man: BC B.C. Comments (8)

BoykulturwritingMy original, handwritten Boykultur manuscript circa 1992.

Following is an entire timeline of my creation of Boy Culture, the novel that became the current film. I’m laying it out once and for all because I have a terrible, terrible memory (one that often suggests wrong details rather than simply blanking) and I am constantly asked about these details and have probably given a million little versions.

Sc000b4c9c_3It's only funny until some boy gets hurt.

Spurring me on is that I recently had the pleasure of being e-interviewed by Matt Zakosek for my alma Sc000b425bmater's school newspaper, The Chicago Maroon. (That always reminds me of Bugs Bunny saying, “What a maroon!”) Like me, he's gay, a product or survivor of U of C, named Matt and a writer. Can't ask for a more sympathetic interviewer. Matt asked me tons of things relating to the creation of the Boy Culture novel, since my original short story on which I'd based it was written at the U of C, used to get into a very tough short-story course with the legendary Richard Stern, published in a short-lived campus art mag (published by my roommate) and expanded into a novella that served as my thesis to graduate.

His great interview is here.

Mapppo_2The Mapplethorpe postcard I had in my room in 1989 to announce I was gay.

M80sHe's going to kill me for not finding the time to do this until 10 minutes after it was published, but I spent part of the weekend rummaging in my art and writing bins in search of the original story, which I scanned and will share here along with photos from the period and drawings I made during the 1989 to 1994 period leading up to the novel’s publication. Like this one, of me with a beard...my Grandma Rettenmund said, "Oh, no, not with your beautiful face!" I hadn't been aware of any beautiful face. I was unconvinced. But, hedging my bets, I shaved.

Sc00162440My dorm room, where Mr. Goodbar could be found, and outside my fab dorm, the Shoreland.

BoyzroomWhen I was a junior (aka 20), I had to submit a story to be considered for the Stern class, so overnight I wrote a piece that felt very radical to me and incorporated a lot of my resentment for the school's all-work-and-no-gay atmosphere. (Two years earlier, I had impulsively chosen The Breakfast Club as the piece of art that most affected my life when writing my admissions essay, so I'd found shooting from the hip quite effective at a school known for Sc000b62e7academic fanaticism.) I based the story on a classmate’s comment that an intimate friend of his from high school—a straight guy—had turned tricks back home. I had been thinking for some time about what kinds of tricks your mind might play on you if you were privy to the hypocritical double lives of people around you, and if you were the type of person prone to crossing lines just to see what it felt like on the other side. When I met this Midwest hustler, he had no personality at all—he was a blank.

I wanted to fill in the blank.

89Me in 1989, at home and working for late lit agent Jane Jordan Browne.

BsoyThe submission, "Straight Story," got me into the class...but then I had to show up and actually read the thing, including all the anger and sex and profanity. I was scared to death, but I read it with gusto, acting out the parts. The class was impressed...or stunned? Professor Stern was a huge supporter and that was a lot to take in, but I appreciated it even when he eventually said the story had a schoolboy whimsy to it. One of my classmates observed that it was brave for me to do something so autobiographical (I guess the first-person is persuasive!) and also so "sociopathic."

Grat1Campus confidential.

Sometime after I received Professor Stern's notes, in the fall of 1989, I allowed the story to be published in Gratuitous U of C B&W Art. This artsy journal was put together by my third-year roommate, Austin Nichols, and featured contributions from all my best university buddies, JJ Fenza, Tony Breed (my other roomie), Anne Stevens and possibly some more.

AustinLiterary lion Austin Nichols (right) and me (in "BOTTOM" tee). It was Halloween.

When my story came out, people were shocked (to the extent that it was even read) by "Straight Story," which I'd coyly signed "J.O." I clearly recall a good friend of my best friend talking to us about this horrible, vulgar story and wondering aloud who could have written it. I took pleasure in telling him I was J.O.—he looked at me like I'd just farted. Loudly.

Next, I decided to turn the story into a novella for my senior thesis. I had all my friends read my expansion 1st_draft_to_strierand give their advice (they’re thanked in my kooky acknowledgments, along with a certain guy “who’s forgotten me by now”). Settling on a title-less draft, I worked with Richard Strier, who'd taught a Samuel Pepys class I took (I think!). It was scary finding someone who'd work with you on your thesis, so I think I chose him because I had some experience with him. I probably had to beg. By the time I was handed off to Stuart Tave, I had gone with True Confessions Of A Working Boy as my new title. I have to confess I don't remember any of my interactions with the esteemed Mr. Tave beyond the notes I've saved...so maybe my experience with him was better than hers—’cuz bad stuff I remember.

My thesis was accepted and I graduated in January of 1991.

I’ve been asked about which books may have influenced me in writing my first novel. My memory is hazy about which gay-themed novels I would have read by the time the novella was completed, but I know I’d read Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story and his other works. That one grabbed me because I found it at the U of C bookstore and flipped it open to a scene about “cornholing.” As base as it sounds at first, just the experience of seeing that writers did not have to put on airs in order to communicate essential truths was highly influential. I think I also read Faggots by Larry Kramer, which I want to re-read. I was fascinated and repulsed by it. I remember being influenced by Kramer’s no-holds-barred criticisms of the gay community, and realized it was okay to create a work that was not 100% rah-rah.

There were other novels I would liken mine to or would somehow link to my understanding of the genre I Sc000aee83_2was writing in, but they didn’t cross my path until much later, when I would have been finalizing the full novel—or even after I’d finished it! I immediately think of Andrew Holleran’s Dancer From The Dance, George Whitmore’s The Confessions Of Danny Slocum (which I found at Housing Works well after my novel was a done deal), Ken Siman’s Pizza Face (so underrated), The Irreversible Decline Of Eddie Sockett by John Weir and the works of Christopher Bram (in particular Surprising Myself)—Christopher and Michael Bronski would later kindly take me for lunch to the Bright Food Shop in Chelsea once I was published, making me feel like a literary superstar. (CONTINUED)

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Apr 12 2007
Deuce Comments (2)

Playbill_deuceMatch point.

Terrence McNally could get anything produced on Broadway, but that doesn't mean he should.

In the case of his latest, the Michael Blakemore-directed Deuce, I would not go so far as to say this tennis-themed show is a double fault. It's more of a frustrating deuce itself—great exercise for two women at the top of their game that nonetheless struggles to produce a win.

Celeste Holm going backstage, fans waiting and the ladies emerging to sign.

F5abb574370a4bd18b55fa93c86edc1bI got tickets for tonight, the very first preview, and was hoping to be wowed. Quadruple Tony winner Angela Lansbury is returning to Broadway for the first time since the ill-fated revival of Mame almost 25 years ago, and Marian Seldes is one of our most distinguished living theatre actresses. Along with a sensational pedigree, the show was said to be about living-legend doubles champions reunited after many years, so I was expecting a lot of tension and verbal volleys culminating with one or the other figuratively jumping over the net in victory.

Instead, the show revealed itself to be an easy-to-watch if somewhat static snapshot of two old friends and athletic partners conversing about their past glories, disappointments and personal entanglements with relaxed detachment. Where I had hoped for a terse, wrenching tournament, I got a genial exhibition match.

Img_0003_3Love this busy picture of the theatre from a distance.

The setting ensures a show that can’t sustain an intermission (it was about 90 minutes straight through)—the women are reunited as the special guests of a championship match, relegated to history, to watching from boxed seats as younger women slug it out in the game that made them famous and defined their lives together and apart. It’s a wonderful premise, one rich with possibilities that go largely unplumbed.

Both actresses are terrific at creating characters from dialogue that, like the play itself, is too literal to truly capture interest. As Midge Barker, Seldes has an arch self-containment tempered with streaks of practical good humor. She might seem prissy at first, but she has her secrets, as when she fantasizes about throwing her old partner for a loop, reminding us that she’s more than just half of a pair.

Img_0007The Seldes wall of fame outside the Music Box Theatre.

Lansbury—looking lovely and only occasionally muffing lines to no great consequence—has the showier role. Leona “Lee” Mullen ‘didn’t used to be a fashion plate so much as a dish’ and has strong opinions on the game of tennis, the usefulness of feminism and her own shortcomings, all of which she punctuates with well-placed “goddamns.”

Img_0009_2And also, the Lansbury wall of fame.

If the actresses are spectacular, their interaction is no spectacle. Instead, the play has the too-easy feel of reminiscing, something Lee abhors. At one point, Lee says to Midge, “You didn’t marry down—you married a son of a bitch.” It’s a line that should be spiked with the dual meaning of a reassurance and a barely suppressed put-down, but when it’s delivered it’s neither—it’s simply a statement of fact.

Complicating matters, and getting in the way, Joanna P. Adler and Brian Haley appear as one-dimensional sports announcers, whose obnoxious narration of the match seems to be meant to reveal how far the game has sunk and how clueless the younger set is about the innerworkings of the older set’s minds. The characters are not needed and bring the proceedings to a screeching halt every time they chime in. Veteran Michael Mulheren appears as a lifelong tennis fan in one touching scene, but it quickly degenerates into a sort of dry history lesson as the women thumb through his inherited autograph book. His other appearances undermine the visual impact of the women we’ve come to see.

I think Deuce could be vastly improved if it were what its title implies—a two-woman show.

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