The Best is Yet to Come:
A Talk With Felice Picano
By Owen Keehnen
(The following interview initially appeared in Men's Style magazine in 1996)
When the Lambda Literary Award nominations were recently announced Felice Picano was cited in two different categories. Over the past 20 years Mr. Picano has not only been a prolific writer in a number of different styles and genres, he has also run two gay presses, lectured extensively, and managed to lead a busy and active life outside of gay literature. At the news of his dual nominations I phoned Felice and he agreed to take a break from working on his latest epic to chat for a few moments.
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).
Thank you. I'm very proud of both books.
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?
17! I'd say it's the outsider or rather "ordinary person", "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 inexhaustible.
After 20 years as a published author what do you consider the pinnacle of your writing career?
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.
How has gay literature changed over that period of time?
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.
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?
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.
You've done so many types of writing; epics, science fiction, memoirs, young adult, essays…which do you enjoy them most and which do you feel is your strongest work?
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.
What was your primary concern with updating The New Joy of Gay Sex?
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!
A great deal of your work entails the chronicling of an era. What is the most important thing you want to convey about the 70s?
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.
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 creativity?
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.
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?
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!
What characteristic do you think most writers share that sets them apart?
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.
Recently you released the science fiction novel Dryland's End. What is your favorite thing about working in that genre?
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.
Would you care to give a title and plot teaser on the epic you've just recently started?
The working title is The Book of Lies and it's about a gay literary group not unlike The Violet Quill Club.
Finally, what sage advice do you have to pass on to the novice writer?
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.
Thanks Felice, congrats on the Lambda nominations and continued success to you in the future.