In the middle of my sophomore year, I was sent to boarding school, at the Cranbrook School for boys, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where I fell in love with Marilyn Monroe. I knew that she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and yet she was in pain, in need. She was unhappy. I believed that I could help her.
I can think of no other writer who so thoroughly embodies the Jamesian spirit as Alison Lurie. Like him she can excavate all the possibilities of a theme. Like his, her books seem long, unbroken threads, seamless progressions of effects.
I've always deplored bad heterosexual values that dictate the minute a marriage is over the former partners no longer speak to each other; only straights could be so cruel and inhuman as to reject totally the person with whom they've shared their life for 20 or 30 years.
Nobody in France would ever say 'He's a Jewish novelist' or 'She's a black novelist,' even though people do write about those subjects. It would look absurd to a French person to go into a bookstore and see a 'Gay Studies' section.
If you're a beach person or a golfer, Key West is not for you. Most of the sand has been imported, and the water is shallow until you've waded far out, and all the way the sea floor is covered with yucky algae and sea grass.
I can remember in the late 1980s and early 1990s how many men with AIDS I saw everywhere in Key West. There were hospices and medical supply stores geared to people with AIDS. It seemed that every sick man who could afford it had headed for the warmth and the tranquillity and the gay-friendliness of the island.
I'm an atheist, I always thought, 'This is it.' If there is going to be a heaven, it should be on earth. I feel much happier than most people. I'm fairly stoic about death, but I'm not keen on dying if it's going to be long and protracted. I don't have dark nights of the soul, except occasionally. I'm such a little busy bee.
Few writers in history have ever been 'politically correct' (a notion that rapidly changes in any case), and there's no reason to imagine that gay writers will ever suit their readers, especially since that readership is splintered into ghettos within ghettos.
I've always been impelled to say the truth. When I was 14, in 1954, I already wrote a gay novel, though I'd never read one. I felt that life handed me a great subject, gay life, that had scarcely been examined, and I was impelled to record it in all its strange detail.
There are a lot of historical novelists who do the research about the clothes and maybe even the eating utensils, but they're basically taking modern people and putting them in old drag - it's sort of the 'Gone With the Wind' approach.
I do probably come down a little hard on a group of people I call the 'blue chip gays.' I mean people who have managed to become very, very famous and are still very famous partly through staying in the closet, like Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Susan Sontag, Harold Brodkey and others.
Everyone seems agreed that writing about sex is perilous, partly because it threatens to swamp highly individualised characters in a generic, featureless activity (much like coffee-cup dialogue, during which everyone sounds the same), and partly because it feels... tacky.
When I was a child, I loved 'The Marble Faun' by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The reason I liked it was because it had a beautiful binding. When you're a kid, you like books because they're pretty to look at, and this one had a white calfskin cover and gold edges. That was enough to make me love it.
The one thing that is sort of sneered at and not really believed is bisexuality. Any bisexual man is just seen as a closeted gay man. That shows how narrow-minded people are. The other thing that's totally neglected and which nobody approves of is celibacy. People again assume that you're just repressing something.
Key West is the place where your sickly house plant back in New York grows to 10 ft. It's also the place where an 8-ft. cactus, the century plant, produces a huge yellow flower every great once in a while, like a robot proffering a bouquet. After the plant flowers, it dies.
I never liked my father. He really was a dullard and misanthrope. My mother and he were married for 22, years and it was an ill match. She encouraged me to be a writer. She opened her home to black friends, and this was the 1950s. She didn't care later when I write about her.
Europeans forget that one-third of the American people have had a personal conversation with Jesus Christ and that the born-again are not just little old ladies in black but also CEOs and provosts of universities and candidates for office.
While writing 'City Boy,' I relied mainly on my own memories. In particular, I was able to describe the effect of gay liberation on an individual life (mine) as events paralleled my own growing self-acceptance; in this case, the political truly was the personal.
When a woman falls in love with me, I feel guilty. I am convinced that it's pure obstinacy that keeps me from reciprocating her passion. As I explain to her that I'm gay, it sounds, even to me, like a silly excuse; I scarcely believe it myself.
When I was young, I despised old people. I was provincial and narrow-minded. It's the reason I stayed stupid so long. If you only get involved with young people you don't learn anything about the world.
Originally, I was against gay marriage because I was opposed to all marriage, being an old-fashioned gay bohemian. The straight people I knew in the sixties were very much opposed to it. I was, too, and it was never a possibility for gays, but when I saw how opposed the Religious Right was to it, I thought it a fight worth fighting.
From an early age, I had the idea that writing was truth-telling. It's on the record. Everybody can see it. Maybe it goes back to the sacred origins of literature - the holy book. There's nothing holy about it for me, but it should be serious, and it should be totally transparent.
In the case of my book, I don't think it's really the coming-out gay novel that everyone really needed, even though it was received as such. The boy is too creepy, he betrays his teacher, the only adult man with whom he's enjoyed a sexual experience, etc.
In a novel, I think you have a contract with the reader to make the character representative - of a moment in history, a social class... for instance, I wanted to make the boy in 'A Boy's Own Story' more like other gay men of my generation in their youth and not like me.
In his enigmatic and cunning story 'The Crown of Feathers,' Isaac Bashevis Singer refuses to produce uncontradictory evidence of God's will but rather mixes all signals, jams the evidence, stalls every conclusion.
Looking back, I can see that the women I loved, at least early on, were status symbols. I suppose, in that sense, I was my mother's true disciple. She'd taught me that a good man, though elusive, could transform one's whole life once he was caught.
The great triumph of the Sixties was to dramatize just how arbitrary and constructed the seeming normality of the Fifties had been. We rose up from our maple-wood twin beds and fell onto the great squishy, heated water bed of the Sixties.