Keehnen: Congratulations on your recent double Lambda Literary
Award nominations for Like People in History (Best Gay Men's Fiction)
and Dryland's End (Best Gay Men's Fantasy/Science Fiction).
Picano: Thank you. I'm very proud of
Keehnen: As the author of 17 books
including Smart as the Devil, Ambidextrous, and The Lure,
do you find a common theme running throughout your fiction?
Picano: 17! I'd say it's the outsider or
rather "ordinary person" or "man on the street" who's put into an
extraordinary situation including a whole life history as in Like People
in History. I hate this word, but it seems fairly universal, but also
Keehnen: After 20 years as a published
author, what do you consider the pinnacle of your writing career?
Picano: There are several. First I'd say
breaking a totally gay book like The Lure into the mainstream in 1979
that included best-sellerdom, book clubs, airport paperback racks, etc.
Another peak was literally changing style and direction for the intimacy and
honesty of Ambidextrous in 1985. The success of Like People in
History has also been a pinnacle, but I think the best is yet to come.
Keehnen: How has gay literature changed
over that period of time?
Picano: 20 years ago there was no gay
literature! Its existence, growth, and phenomenal diversity and richness
have changed. In 1979 for example, The Lure was the first and only
gay mystery thriller, now there's one released every month. I've also seen a
serious decline in the quantity not quality of gay poetry. We're now pretty
much poetry illiterate.
Keehnen: At one time you ran your own
gay press and even made the astute decision to pick up Torch Song Trilogy
immediately. What did working on that end of the writing industry teach you?
Picano: That most of what determines
what books are published and how well has to do with jobs and office
politics, bottom line economics, editorial egotism�anything and everything
but literature. I'm proud to say I ran two presses for 18 years, published
78 books, and made money, all as a "night" job.
Keehnen: You've done so many types of
writing; epics, science fiction, memoirs, young adult, essays�which do you
enjoy the most and which do you feel is your strongest work?
Picano: Until I went to work on the last
two novels I would have said anything but fiction. Now that I think I've
broken through to a richer and more varied personal style of novel writing,
I once more think it's the strongest of my work and the most consistently
interesting for me to write and for others to read.
Keehnen: What was your primary concern
with updating The New Joy of Gay Sex?
Picano: To honor the lives of those who
had died with truth and honesty, men who loved men and men who loved sex.
Also to tell younger guys to grow up, watch out, and above all have fun!
Keehnen: A great deal of your work
entails the chronicling of an era. What is the most important thing you want
to convey about the 70's?
Picano: Those who formed gay culture in
the 70s did so despite overwhelming opposition and indifference. They
didn't know what they were doing, only that they had to do it. Many, many of
them, men and women, are dead of AIDS and cancer. They were heroes. If we
stand tall today it's because we're standing on the shoulders of giants,
princes, queens, and butches. I think we should honor and salute them.
Keehnen: Your newest memoir, following
Ambidextrous and The Men Who Loved Me, is A House by The
Ocean, a House on the Bay, which deals with living on Fire Island and
becoming a writer. Based on your previous memoirs as well as the newest, is
it safe to assume for you there is some core connection between sex and
Picano: Unquestionably, but I'm not
entirely sure what the relationship is, parallel or inverse. Both typify two
crucial aspects of life, communication and self-expression. Few bad writers
are, I think, great lovers and vice versa.
Keehnen: As a former member of the
Violet Quill Club what memory would you want to put in a time capsule about
that legendary gay writing group which included Edmund White, Andrew
Holleran, Robert Ferro, and George Whitmore, among others?
Picano: Only that living and dead we
were friends before all. We loved and admired each other very much. We also
shared the hope that one day any young dyke or gay teenager could go into
any bookstore or library and get a book about his or her own kind. Our dream
has come true!
Keehnen: What characteristic do you
think most writers share that sets them apart?
Picano: They see better than most what's
wrong with life and have the irritating need to fix it or at least to let
others know it's all wrong and better be fixed soon.
Keehnen: Recently you released the
science fiction novel Dryland's End. What is your favorite thing
about working in that genre?
Picano: That the unexpected is the norm.
Not, say, that giant insects can speak, but that how they speak reflects how
differently they live and think from humans. Also, it allows one to question
the "givens" of so called "reality." Why do we only have one life for a
single birth, one "character" for a life, why not two separate lives? That's
one question I'm thinking of. Also, what really constitutes gender? Is it
externally determined or reproductive only? Do we need two genders? It's
only a late development on this earth.
Keehnen: Would you care to give a title
and plot teaser on the epic you've just recently started?
Picano: The working title is The Book
of Lies and it's about a gay literary group not unlike the Violet Quill
Club. [The Book of Lies was subsequently published under that title
and remains in print.]
Keehnen: Finally, what sage advice do
you have to pass on to the novice writer?
Picano: Stop! Don't! Help! Oh, okay, go
ahead, but don't say I didn't warn you. And by the way, never take "No" for
an answer and write whatever you want.
Keehnen: Thanks, Felice, congrats on the
Lambda nominations and continued success to you in the future.
Picano: Thanks, Owen.