Bestselling gay author Christopher Rice will be in town Jan. 30 to host a reading from his soon-to-be-released new novel, rub elbows with and sign autographs for his fans and, most importantly, host a benefit for Giovanni’s Room’s repair efforts for the long-established bookstore’s front wall.
Since his first novel debuted in 2000, the 31-year-old son of superstar horror novelist Anne Rice has carved out a niche of his own in the literary world, developing a dedicated following with his noir-ish thrillers featuring gay characters. His second novel, “The Snow Garden,” even won a Lambda Literary Award for best gay men’s mystery novel in 2003.
With the hotly anticipated “The Moonlit Earth,” due out in April, and a contribution to the upcoming anthology “Men to Men: New Voices in Gay Fiction” on the horizon, Rice talked to PGN about his success and the importance of supporting LGBT bookstores and authors in an industry that grows smaller every year.
PGN: How important are LGBT bookstores like Giovanni’s Room to you as an author and a consumer? CR: They’re important to me as a person. I think that [gay bookstores] are community outposts. They’re a place for dialogue in the gay community that is not explicitly about the sale and consumption of alcohol or specifically about the pursuit of sex — although any place can be that if the right people go. I think that they are a safe place for young people to go to and gather. Nothing on the Internet has replaced them in any of those capacities. It’s very painful to me that we are losing them. I was devastated by the loss of A Different Light in West Hollywood. I live in one of the most famous gay communities in the world and we do not have a gay bookstore anymore. That just boggles the mind. From a marketing perspective, I think authors need to go and be involved in promoting themselves wherever their books are sold, but I have felt a community responsibility to these stores. One of the largest events I ever did was at Giovanni’s Room to promote my second novel, “The Snow Garden.”
PGN: Many of your novels are set in high schools, colleges or within the military — places that can be difficult or hostile for LGBT individuals. Is that social commentary or just the makings of a good thriller? CR: It’s the making of a good thriller above all else. There’s a social-commentary element to it, but as a writer I’m drawn to gay characters and conflict. So I go to locations where they face the most adversity. “The Moonlit Earth” is my first book that isn’t focused on one of those environments. It is focused on characters who are struggling with their sexuality as an identity, specifically as an identity that limits their financial opportunities in life. There’s a closeted Saudi character that is afraid of coming out of the closet because of being cut off financially by his family. The earlier books I did were focused on sexual behavior and there’s less of an emphasis now as I go on because I got a little tired of it. I‘ve always been intrigued by how gay characters try to reckon not just with life inside a gay space or “ghetto,” but how they reckon with the larger world, whether it be defined by the homophobia they experience or the unattainable straight guy they lust after. I’m interested in gay people trying to function in a larger society and sometimes not doing that well.
PGN: When writing a new novel, do you feel like you have to live up to the expectations of your fans? CR: I’m very blessed because my core group of fans are very loyal. They have recognized that there has been a progression in the books. When you get published at the age of 21, what you write at 31 is going to be different and, hopefully, the quality will have improved. The themes are going to grow and evolve with the author. The scary thing is wondering whether or not the readers are going to go with you and, for the most part, they have. They post a lot of lovely comments on my Facebook page that I go and read when I’m feeling down about my own work. I think becoming too wedded to what anyone expects out of you is death for an author creatively. What’s really important to me is writing the book that I want to read, and that’s what I set out to do every time.
PGN: As a bestselling author, do you ever get offers to adapt your works for television or film, and is that something that appeals to you? CR: It is something that I’m interested in but it is not something that I’m willing to devote my entire life to try and make happen. It’s a different business. It works in a different way. I live out here so I see how it works. It is not easy to break into. My attitude is, if it happens, it happens. I came out here hoping that it would happen and when it didn’t happen right away, I chose to focus on the novels. I think that the pressure comes from popular culture these days. There’s been such a devaluation of authorship and literature that there’s this presumption that your book really isn’t worth anything unless it’s made into a movie. In response to that, I would point to the really bad adaptations of good books year after year after year. It’s a tough game, and I made a decision to place the books prominently in my life and to say it was enough that I was writing this book, even if I wasn’t making half as much money as the writers for TV and film do.
PGN: Some critics described your earlier works as “gothic.” Do you think that is a fair description? CR: Sure. I think it startled me because at the time I didn’t really have a conception of what gothic meant. I knew that mom’s vampires were considered gothic and I thought that because the books were contemporary, they would not be labeled as such. So when they were, I was taken aback. But I realize that gothic has a more expansive definition than I ever gave it credit for and it’s a comment on the emotional tone of the books, a sort of heavy emphasis on seductive setting combined with a sense of constant menace. That’s what defined the first two novels. Then there was a major shift for me. I moved into more noir novels because I had moved out to L.A. and I was interested in finding what the literary voice of this part of the country was.
PGN: Having contributed to the upcoming book “Men to Men: New Voices in Gay Fiction,” what do you think are some of the biggest obstacles facing new and undiscovered LGBT authors? CR: There are the same obstacles that face everyone trying to break into this industry right now. There’s a particular prejudice, but that particular prejudice comes from the fact that the market for LGBT books isn’t what it once was. I have good friends who are writers and publishers who believe that gay people are not forming a potent segment of the book-buying public. Gay men are early adopters who are more technology driven, who for the most part are turning their backs on books. Now I have met a bunch of gay men who will say with great hostility that they’ve done it because they feel the quality is rather poor. Mostly what is being put in front of them are “bodice rippers” or erotica. So it’s a fight that I don’t know how to win. What I can say with certainty is that LGBT authors who are trying to break into the market are facing the same thing everyone else is facing: an industry that is in the grip of a massive, terrifying transition. Nobody knows what is going to happen. What we know is the current model for selling books may not be working anymore. I wish I could offer a ray of light on the horizon. I think there is one, but we don’t know what it’s going to be yet.
PGN: Are there any genres of writing in which you think LGBT characters and authors are underrepresented? CR: I think that LGBT characters are underrepresented in the genre that I work in, the thriller-and-mystery genre. I think that there are a lot of us writing out there but I would like to see more of us getting some mainstream acceptance. It’s important for us to take our place at the table. What’s most interesting to me has been the developments in gay romance, the recent trend toward gay-romance novels that aren’t necessarily erotica, and watching how we take to that genre.
Rice will preview “The Moonlit Earth” at a cocktail party and reading from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Plastic Club, 247 S. Camac St. Space is expected to be limited. Reservations can be made at Giovanni’s Room, 345 S. 12th St., or by calling (215) 923-2960. For more information on Rice, visit www.christopherricebooks.com.